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Local governments open door to Internet business

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The $5.22 million grant awarded to Region 10 and its partners comes from a special state account earmarked to pay "broadband" infrastructure development costs. The account is administered by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) and funded with monies paid to the state by Colorado's energy exploration, development and production industry.

The money is to be used for developing a Phase I fiberoptic infrastructure providing fast Internet access service to governments in the area, according to presentations of the program concept. The fiberoptic service will also be offered to other facilities including health care providers and schools, referred to as "anchor institutions."

Local governments also have the ability to become last mile Internet service providers in their own jurisdictions. For example, the City of Montrose voters granted the city permission to enter the local ISP business.

Locally, governments in Delta County have moved toward asking their voters for permission to enter the ISP business. As of July 24, all but two local governments, including Delta County, had notified the county clerk's office of possible ballot questions asking voters to "opt out" of Senate Bill 152 in November. SB-152 prohibits local governments from engaging in the Internet service provider business. An "opt-out" question, if approved by voters, would exempt local government.

As of early this week, Crawford and Orchard City had not yet indicated a move toward placing an "opt-out" question on the ballot. However, Orchard City's board at its Aug. 12 monthly meeting was planning to decide on whether to place the question on its November ballot.

Other features of the Phase I project as stipulated in Region 10's DOLA grant request and in other contexts include:

• Phase I will not provide Internet "broadband" service to private businesses or homes.

• Retail Internet service is to be provided by as yet undetermined providers.

• No time frames have been officially specified for completion of Phase I or for the availability of fiberoptic/wireless Internet to private business or households.

• Geographic availability of service is being described as "Delta County and eastern Montrose County" -- essentially the DMEA service area.

• The Montrose County government is not participating in the project.

• The actual speeds of Internet service that will be available in various local areas have not been discussed, though a publicly funded implementation plan has been developed.

The $5.22 million grant is a big one for DOLA's Energy Impact Assistance Fund. Regional DOLA manager Elyse Ackerman was asked how large, comparatively, the award is. She replied in an email, "I don't know if it's the largest award, but it is certainly one of the larger awards we have done."

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