State Sen. Kerry Donovan kicks up cash for Colorado rural broadband support | VailDaily.com

State Sen. Kerry Donovan kicks up cash for Colorado rural broadband support

DENVER — Pushing a proposal through the Colorado Legislature can be tiring.

Take Sen. Kerry Donovan's effort to get some funding for rural broadband. For three years, she has run a bill to get some funding for it; three consecutive years her bill was killed in some nondescript Senate committee.

This year it was Donovan's Rural Broadband Deployment Bill, Senate Bill 81. It died last month in the Senate Business, Technology and Labor Committee. However, Donovan managed to push a $9.45 million line item into the state budget for the Rural Broadband Support Fund.

It's a little like living the Rolling Stones lyric: "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need."

“High-speed internet isn’t a luxury. In 2017, it’s an absolute necessity. This is a win not just for us in the high country, but for all of Colorado.”Kerry DonovanSenator, Colorado

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"You cannot put anything in the budget that creates new law, but you can create new line items," Donovan said.

So that's what the Vail native and first-term Democrat did on Friday afternoon.

"It still plays by the rules, but the money goes where it needs to go, and that's broadband for rural Colorado," Donovan said.

Red Cliff, Bond and McCoy are the last unserved areas in Eagle County, Donovan said. In Pitkin County, which Donovan also represents, Marble is in the same broadband boat.

"We've been working on this issue for many years, saying we're going to wire all of Colorado. This is the first time we've put any real money toward that. We're finally acting on that promise," Donovan said.

Hickenlooper's Top 10

Rural broadband has been on Gov. John Hickenlooper's top 10 list, and that was the beginning of the Rural Broadband Support Fund.

Installing broadband in rural areas comes with big price tags, but $10 million isn't nothing, Donovan said.

"The state is serious about wiring rural Colorado," Donovan said.

Donovan is the first Colorado lawmaker to funnel money into the broadband fund.

What it buys

Colorado's Broadband Deployment Fund money provides a 75/25 match. The state provides 75 percent; the provider comes up with 25 percent, said Nathan Walowitz, regional broadband coordinator with the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments.

The $9.45 million Donovan line item that the senator pushed into the state budget will buy what's called "last mile connections" to the residences and business in places such as Red Cliff and other areas unserved by broadband, Walowitz said.

"This effects education, business, public safety … so many things," Walowitz said.

A study by Elizabeth Garner, Colorado's demographer, shows the correlation between economic development and broadband availability.

"It's a step forward. We could use more money, but the state budget is tight right now," Walowitz said.

Donovan called it "a $9.45 million step."

"It's keeping a promise we made to give robust broadband to all of Colorado," Donovan said.

Donovan argued that whether you're a child in a rural classroom, or a patient seeking medical care in a rural hospital, Coloradans in the metro area have advantages unavailable to those on the eastern plains, in the high country or in the southern part of our state. Small businesses can't thrive and entrepreneurs are told to pursue their dreams elsewhere or fall behind.

"High-speed internet isn't a luxury. In 2017, it's an absolute necessity. This is a win not just for us in the high country, but for all of Colorado," Donovan said. "We know that Colorado is better when rural communities thrive. Whether it's giving a kid a leg up in their classroom, or helping an entrepreneur create jobs in rural Colorado, fast and reliable broadband is a necessity in 2017."

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