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County, towns eye opt out ballot question

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Local governments in Delta County all within a few days of each other have shown interest in ballot questions to "opt out" of state restrictions that forbid them from entering the Internet service provider (ISP) business.

The issue of holding local opt-out votes came up unexpectedly earlier this month as the Region 10 organization prepared last week to ask Colorado Department of Affairs for $5.22 million in grant funding for a "regional broadband plan."

On July 6, the Board of County Commissioners voted to place a question on the November ballot for opting out from provisions of Senate Bill 152, the law that prevents local governments from being in the ISP business. A provision of the law allows local governments to opt out of the prohibition by a popular vote.

The commissioners' action was accompanied by no prior public discussion. Commissioner Bruce Hovde -- the BoCC's representative on broadband support groups Region 10 and Delta County Economic Development (DCED) - made the motion to have the question placed on the county's November ballot. The motion was adopted unanimously. Hovde noted the move could be "rescinded" before November.

Hovde has stated Delta County has no interest in entering the ISP business. Hovde has said the county lacks funds, facilities and infrastructure to be an ISP. He reaffirmed that position to the DCI last week.

Then following the commissioners' move, the Town of Cedaredge at its July 16 regular trustee meeting -- also without any prior public discussion -- voted to have staff draft an opt-out ballot question for November.

Following Cedaredge on July 22, a third local government, Orchard City, scheduled a special trustee meeting in part to discuss an SB-152 opt-out issue. Mayor Don Suppes explained the discussion had been called for at the request of DCED vice president Tom Huerkamp. No one from DCED was present at the meeting for the discussion. That was because, as Suppes explained, the county's idea of an SB-152 opt-out vote this November had been for the moment dropped.

Nevertheless, Suppes expressed some reservations about Orchard City opting out of SB-152. Opting out would give town officials complete freedom to create an ISP business, something that Suppes believes his town government is completely unsuited to do. He also noted that by opting out the town could find itself pressured as part of a "regional broadband plan" to become a direct Internet provider to its rural population. Orchard City took no action on any opt-out provision at the special meeting.

Staffs with county government and also at Cedaredge have noted that private businesses are not interested in being the last-mile Internet service providers to private homes and businesses in Delta County as part of a "regional broadband plan" being championed by DCED and Region 10.

According to the county elections department, the following local governments have notified the county clerk to reserve a place on the November ballot for local SB-152 opt-out questions: Delta County, City of Delta, Cedaredge, Hotchkiss and Paonia. Neither Orchard City nor Crawford had given the clerk notification by last Friday's deadline. However, according to elections officials, those communities can still participate in an SB-152 opt-out vote if they have their ballot questions to the clerk's office by September.

The county commissioners agree in general that opting out is seen as aiding the perfecting of easements for installing and using fiberoptic cable as Internet access.

Glen Black, interim city manager, brought the SB-152 question before Delta City Council because the state restriction could pose an obstacle to the regional effort to provide broadband to the area. Delta City Council approved the ballot measure on a 5-0 vote.

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