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Colorado Broadband Bill Seeks Access Answers
For tourists and residents alike, much of Colorado is one amazing vista after the next. I nearly circumnavigated it on a recent trip and was re-blown away at how incrediblely beautiful it is (recommendation: stop by Great Sand Dunes National Park).
But those incredible mountains are a two-way street. The same ridges that make it great ski country make it awful wireless country. All those mountains make it hard to provide ubiquitous wireless access - leave the interstate or urban areas behind and you are lucky to see the old "1x" show up on your smartphone.
When I go on vacation, I like to remain connected to find weather reports, directions to my next destination, local cafes, etc. And like just about everyone, I really like to be connected where I live. The private telecom sector gets a failing grade for serving both residents and vacationers.
Don't forget that Colorado is one of the nineteen states that have barriers to publicly owned networks despite the refusal of cable and DSL companies to build next-generation networks. We've frequently written about Longmont's efforts to improve its broadband access despite that legislation.
Senate Bill 12-129 aims to identify areas of the state lacking sufficient acess to the Internet and seeking solutions. A local newspaper reported on testimony from local businesses suffering from the lack of investment:
Wendell Pryor, director of the Chaffee County Economic Development Corp., testified to the impacts of limited bandwidth on businesses in that area.
Princeton Hot Springs Resort, an economic driver that generates the second-highest amount of sales tax among businesses in Chaffee County, is unable to process credit cards electronically when bandwidth traffic is high.
"The broadband is simply not sufficient to allow them to do that, so it's done manually," Pryor said.
He said Monarch Ski Resort, which anchors the winter tourist season in Chaffee County, asks the staff to shut off their computers in order to have adequate broadband availability for skiers and customers.
Meanwhile, it appears that CenturyLink and other providers are trying to water down the bill. As we have seen elsewhere, the big DSL companies want to define broadband at ludicrously low speeds to hide the fact that they are crippling local businesses by refusing to provide modern services.
Government Technology offers a deeper explanation of the bill, along with my thought that this bill is better than what most states are doing because most states are either doing nothing or narrowing the options for communities by creating barriers to community networks.
An original goal of the bill was to identify both those areas lacking in broadband access as defined by the FCC and those areas lacking in competitive access to such broadband (probably the vast majority of the state). But the competition aspect was dropped in committee - probably a friendly gesture to CenturyLink and others who pretend broadband has a lot of competition but hasten to stop anyone from actually examining it.
If the bill passes in current form, it would also develop an inventory of state-owned broadband assets -- something every state should probably develop.
This bill does not address public ownership or community networks but the discussions around it are relevant. Even though big corporations like CenturyLink try to cast publicly owned networks as a public v. private affair, the article reminds us that this issue is really everyone v. a few very big cable and DSL companies:
Colorado Counties Inc. (CCI), which represents county interests in the state, supports SB 12-129. Andy Karsian, the organization’s legislative coordinator, said various rural counties have had opportunities to attract employers, but they couldn’t seal the deal -- primarily due to a lack of high-speed connectivity those potential businesses require.
If CenturyLink were meeting local needs and allowing local businesses to thrive, communities would not be examining their capacity to build their own networks.
My greatest fear with the Colorado bill is that we will get another Advisory Panel or Task Force or some official body that will get nothing done because representatives of CenturyLink or Comcast or other big companies that benefit from the status quo will deadlock it. As I told GovTech,
“Unfortunately these advisory panels often end up stacked with representatives from DSL and cable companies that prefer the status quo until they can devise a scheme for the public to funnel more subsidies their way,” Mitchell said. “I hope that will not be the case in Colorado.”
Photo of Colorado's incredible mountains used under creative commons license, courtesy of Hogs555.