Local voters asked to let towns, county go around state broadband restrictions | VailDaily.com

Local voters asked to let towns, county go around state broadband restrictions

EAGLE — A 12-year-old state law that could impede high-speed internet in rural areas also impedes business development, and local governments want to go around it.

Local governments up and down the Vail Valley this November will ask voters for permission to go around a state law that prohibits them from using public money to provide or improve access to high-speed internet and other telecommunications services — either on their own or in partnership with an existing company.

Along with Eagle County, Gypsum, Eagle, Avon, Minturn and Vail either will ask or are considering asking their voters for that permission in the Nov. 7 election.

Eagle County will only ask voters for permission, not money, said Beth Oliver, with the county attorney's office.

The county has no plans to do it but wants to be ready if the commissioners decide to, Oliver said.

"This should have been a legislative fix," said Jeanne McQueeney, Eagle County commissioner, explaining why Eagle County is putting this on the November ballot.

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About the bill

In 2005, state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 152, which says that before a local government may provide high-speed internet, cable television and other telecommunications services — either on its own or by working with a company — it must ask voters' permission.

So far, 68 towns and 28 counties have placed measures on the ballot in accordance with this law, states Colorado Counties Inc., a nonprofit that assists county governments in working together on common issues.

As a result of these ballots, local and county governments across the state have started investing public money into infrastructure, usually fiber optic cable and cell towers. In order to encourage other Colorado cities and counties to do the same, Colorado Counties Inc. and the Colorado Municipal League have co-authored "SB05-152 Opt-Out Kit: A Local Government Blueprint for Improving Broadband Service in Your Community."

"These measures have passed handily in virtually every jurisdiction, with the support of citizens who are frustrated and want timely action on broadband service in their communities," the blueprint states. "Broadband has become so crucial that many now regard it as a basic infrastructure need, on par with roads, water systems."

Red Cliff is the only town in Eagle County without high-speed internet outside satellite television service. Red Cliff constructed its own tower and is pushing ahead with providing high-speed internet service to the town's residents.

"To compete in today's economy, communities across the state have become increasingly dependent on internet access, and especially high-capacity broadband access, for business development and operations," the blueprint states.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

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