El Paso County voters will decide whether county should provide high-speed internet to less-populated areas

August 23, 2016 Updated: August 23, 2016 at 3:56 pm
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A.J. Bowen of Schupp's Line Construction, Inc. works on fiber-optic installation in Norton, Vt., Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2007. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

Voters will decide in November whether El Paso County will opt out of a controversial state Senate bill and open the door to help bring high-speed internet to rural areas.

The Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved (5-0) ballot language that would allow the county to provide, facilitate, partner or coordinate with online service providers to bring fiber-optic internet to places that have been ignored in the past. The question that will appear on the ballot in November says that passing the measure would restore "local authority and flexibility that was taken away" by the Colorado Revised Statutes.

"This is something that will benefit consumers," said District 5 Commissioner Peggy Littleton.

The commissioners heard the first reading of the ballot measure Aug. 16. Jeff Eckhart, the county's information technology director, addressed the board then and again on Tuesday, saying that opting out of the "restrictive" Senate Bill 05-152 will reduce costs in rural areas and "improve market conditions." Voters in more than 50 Colorado municipalities have opted out of the legislation over the last few years.

According to Eckhart, El Paso County voters' approval will allow the county to install conduits of fiber-optic lines west through the Ute Pass area and to other less-populated zones to the north and east.

Chris Davis, chairman of the Canterbury Estates homeowners' association near Monument, expressed years of frustration Tuesday, saying, "We can't get providers to give us service because there is no access to the 'middle mile.'" The "middle mile" is a telecommunications term referring to a segment of line linking a core network to outlying areas.

Teller County, the towns of Victor and Cripple Creek, Woodland Park and Green Mountain Falls all plan to ask voters the same question in November.

AN EMERGENCY REQUEST

El Paso County Executive Director of Public Services Jim Reid asked the Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday to help with an "emergency item" involving one of his department's road graders.

According to Reid, the grader was pushed much longer than the normal 10,000 hours of service that usually prompts the county to replace it. The transmission blew, leaving the machine out of service.

The commissioners obliged Reid's request, voting unanimously to allocate more than $26,000 to repair the road grader.

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