Vail Valley Partnership CEO: Eagle County can boost broadband with ‘yes’ vote on override question (column)
October 12, 2017
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 availability of broadband has also become a necessity for quality of life and desirability of a community, providing residents access to things such as online education and distance learning opportunities, telemedicine and entertainment (movies, music, etc.). Broadband has become so critical, in fact, that many now regard it as a basic infrastructure need — on par with roads, water systems and energy grids.
Unfortunately, numerous communities across Colorado still lack adequate internet connectivity. The reasons vary, but often these areas are too sparsely populated, too remote or in regions where the topography (mountainous terrain, etc.) makes expanding service difficult and expensive for telecommunication providers. These communities are "upside down" from a traditional business model standpoint, and providers are unable or unwilling to connect these areas, leaving them at an economic disadvantage from their more urban neighbors.
While local governments often play a direct role in economic development efforts, cities and counties historically have not been directly involved in the delivery of retail telecommunication services. However, the increasing demand for broadband service — often driven by economic development concerns — has forced many local government officials to re-examine their role in the provision of broadband services.
In the last few years, a growing number of local governments have started looking at investing public dollars in broadband infrastructure improvements (usually fiber optic cable lines or cell towers) to attract internet providers and enhance economic development efforts in their region.
One of the biggest impediments to local governments enhancing broadband infrastructure is a law passed in 2005, which has since been commonly referred to as Senate Bill (SB) 152. SB 152 prohibits most uses of municipal or county money for infrastructure to improve local broadband service, without first going to a vote of the people. The hurdles put in place by this statute are not insurmountable; indeed, in the past few years 68 municipalities and 28 counties have placed measures on the ballot to override the prohibitions in SB 152.
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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.
SB 152 requires that an election be held before a local government may "engage or offer to engage in providing" various telecommunication services. The term "providing" is given an expansive definition in the statute, which restricts both the direct and "indirect" provision of service ("indirect," in turn, is given its own, broadly restrictive definition). Fortunately, through a successful SB 152 election, a local community can clear away this legal impediment to a wide variety of local broadband initiatives.
It is important to point out that the vast majority of local governments that have passed SB 152 questions are not interested in hooking up homes and businesses and providing actual broadband services themselves. By and large, these jurisdictions are working to enhance local broadband infrastructure to attract private sector service providers who would otherwise be unwilling or unable to serve their communities. The local broadband initiatives in the jurisdictions passing SB 152 questions to date usually involve some form of public-private partnerships between local governments, economic development agencies and the industry.
Voters in municipalities throughout Eagle County will see a SB 152 opt-out on their ballots. We encourage you to vote "yes" on this issue.
Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at http://www.vailvalleypartnership.com.