The airwaves have been filled with initiatives during this campaign season, but little has been said about an important local initiative in El Paso County on the ballot — 1A.
Since this initiative requires no tax increase, you won’t see it in the State’s Blue Book or in El Paso County’s informational ballot piece.
This important measure would put the county on even footing with more than 60 other Colorado counties and municipalities where voters have recognized the value of public-private partnerships as a way to extend affordable high-speed internet and broadband services to everyone. In fact, El Paso County is one of 22 local governments with a ballot initiative to allow these kinds of partnerships with local telecommunications providers.
A “yes” vote on initiative 1A authorizes El Paso County to provide — at no additional cost to taxpayers — any or all of the services currently restricted by Senate Bill 05-152, which limits local government from providing “telecommunication service” and “advanced service” (broadband) to the general public. Passed by the General Assembly in 2005, the law fails to take into account changes in technology.
Initiative 1A permits, by public vote, an opt-out provision that allows commercial providers to tap into El Paso County’s existing or planned fiber and create partnership opportunities which are currently unavailable due to the restrictions imposed by state government. The measure restores local control over the future of our technology needs and resident accessibility, especially evident in today’s changing cyber world.
Initiative 1A is intended to assist local communities in El Paso County with improved access to reliable, affordable high-speed internet and broadband services for the effective delivery of public safety, health care, education, personal and economic opportunities, targeted primarily at rural and underserved areas within the county which have limited or no broadband services.
1A may also serve to lower the wholesale cost of broadband supply to commercial internet service providers, making it economically feasible for residential and commercial delivery and expansion of broadband services to more remote areas. It could make faster connections possible, improving business communications.
One of the frequent frustrations I hear from citizens within El Paso County is that service providers tell them there are not a sufficient number of users to cover the costs of expanding service in their neighborhoods. And while several broadband studies are currently in process in our county, there are significant limitations in providing access solutions. Unfortunately, this restrictive state law did not anticipate the future of technology and prohibits local government collaboration with commercial providers to improve service to the community. The El Paso County Board of County Commissioners unanimously referred this ballot initiative, and the passage of 1A will give us more opportunities to partner with Teller County and the town of Green Mountain Falls, which have referred similar ballot initiatives for improved broadband services.
Commissioners said, during the discussion on this initiative, that the lack of high speed data and cellular communications were challenges during both the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires. It just makes sense that if public entities are already building the “middle mile” infrastructure for public safety purposes, private companies should be able to use excess capacity to make it more efficient to extend broadband services. If those fiber optic lines to its facilities and those lines have excess capacity, it is more efficient for private providers to tie into those lines and build out service to homes and businesses.
The ability to partner with one of the private providers in an agreement will provide what we need for emergency communications and also expands services to more citizens without any tax increase. During the public discussion, a resident came forward and stated that his neighborhood had been struggling for years to get service and appreciated the county’s stepping up to help.
A “yes” vote on 1A is a vote for local partnership opportunities and incentives to provide high-speed internet services for the benefit of our citizens.
Sallie Clark is the chairwoman of the El Paso County Board of Commissioners. She can be reached at email@example.com.