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Coram: Speaking up for broadband in rural Colorado

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Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018 9:45 AM
Representative Don Coram

We are now into the third week of the 2018 legislative session and things are beginning to move fast.

To start the year off, we successfully passed a bill that continues an interstate compact allowing nurses from neighboring states to practice in Colorado. Being surrounded by three other states, you can imagine how this is needed to ensure that health care providers have access to professionals who can properly serve you.

While a successful bill, and the first fast early bill I have seen in seven years of being in the General Assembly, I want to talk to my constituents today about a bill that is encountering some opposition. I have been fighting for improvements to rural broadband in Colorado since 2013, and this year, I am proud to co-sponsor “SB 18-02: Financing Rural Broadband Deployment.”

It seems unnecessary for me to explain to constituents in my district about how poor internet service can be in rural areas of Colorado. For a company to set up the infrastructure needed to reach people in rural areas requires high costs for low returns, a feat that most privately held companies do not want to embark on.

This is why I am co-sponsoring SB 18-02, a bill that will help provide much-needed funding for broadband in rural parts of Colorado. SB 18-02 has been met with praise from leadership on both sides of the aisle, Senate President Kevin Grantham, Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert, Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman and President Pro Tem Jerry Sonnenberg have all shown support. In the House, Speaker of the House Cristina Duran and House Majority Leader K.C. Becker have also shown support and sponsored the bill. While many people have shown their understanding and support for the issue, we have been met with some opposition.

A similar bill trying to address the rural broadband issue was introduced in 2013 and was met by a lawsuit by CenturyLink. The Public Utility Commission managed to come to a settlement that left limited funds for the expansion of broadband into rural areas. Similar to 2013, we have been met with opposition from CenturyLink on SB 18-02. CenturyLink has proposed a series of amendments to the bill that would change the geographical definition of underserved areas in Colorado and effectively eliminate the “rural” component of the bill. This is not the original purpose of the bill and would cause the bill to effectively fail the people it was intended for.

The original purpose of the bill was to direct an increasing amount of funds from the High Cost Support Mechanism (HCSM) and use them to finance broadband projects in high cost area. The HCSM was put together to provide basic level utilities in high-cost areas like rural Colorado. The bill will funnel funds from the HCSM in 20 percent increment each year for five years until the full amount, or $25 million, would be going toward rural broadband.

CenturyLinks opposition comes when they would still be receiving millions of dollars over the next five years and millions of dollars from Connect America and the federal government. The HCSM was not designed to be a crutch for the telecommunications industry, but much-needed support to underserved areas of Colorado.

To ensure that rural Colorado is not just a spectator, but also a participant, in Colorado’s booming economy, we need equally competitive levels of service that companies like CenturyLink are not providing. Bringing broadband will help rural Colorado improve not only their economy, but bring much needed support to education and health care that need broadband to compete with the rest of Colorado and the Nation.

Don Coram, R-Montrose, represents State Senate District 6. Contact Sen. Coram at (303) 866-4884 or don@doncoram.com. During the legislative session, Sen. Coram and Rep. Barbara McLachlan share this column on alternate weeks.

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