On June 8 residents of Cortez will be asked to vote on a ballot issue exempting the City of Cortez from Senate Bill 152.
SB 152 was passed by the Colorado legislature in 2005 after much lobbying from telecommunications companies, which sought to restrict local governments from entering into public-private partnerships to increase the availability of broadband service in their own local communities.
It was designed to reduce local control, thus allowing private providers to make all the decisions regarding the level of internet services a local community would receive. Fortunately, the state legislature included a provision in the legislation allowing local communities to opt out.
Since that time, more than 140 local municipalities and counties have done so. In 2016, residents of Montezuma County, Dolores and Mancos voted overwhelmingly to do so. Cortez did not go through the opt-out process then because the legal opinion at the time was that the city had been engaged in providing broadband services prior to the legislation and was therefore exempt. Today, legal opinion on this issue is mixed, so the city has chosen to go to the voter as insurance it is on sound legal footing.
What kinds of public-private partnerships has the city been engaged in? In 2003, the city created the Cortez Community Network, providing internet services not only to all city buildings but also to the county, RE-1 School District and Southwest Memorial Hospital.
Several years ago the city also successfully partnered with Osprey to provide them with the level of broadband service it needed to conduct its business on a global scale. As a result, the company has made Cortez its international headquarters. Osprey built a beautiful campus in town and employs more than 100 staff who receive good wages.
The CCN is an open access model, meaning internet service providers such as Farmer’s Telecommunications can purchase unused fiber from the city to provide its own service. These fees were increased a couple of years ago to cover city costs, but still remain low as the city does not need to make a profit on this service.
If anything good came out of the pandemic, it’s the realization that broadband is a necessity. Too many rural communities, including our own, do not have the level of access we need. Broadband makes it possible for individuals to create their own home-based businesses and to conduct business remotely, allowing people to choose where they live as opposed to having to live where the business is located. It gives students access to additional educational opportunities that would be impossible to provide locally. It is also the infrastructure on which 911 services are provided. Without broadband redundancy — more than one line of service — a break in a line could result in slower emergency responses from our fire, police and ambulance services.
The June 8 election is an important one for Cortez. A “yes” simply gives the city one more option to come up with a solution to expanding high speed, reliable, affordable broadband services to our citizens. Without a "yes“ we are stuck where we are now — at the mercy of telecom providers with a business model more focused on profits than providing the level of service we need at a cost we can afford. While this model has worked wonderfully well in other areas of commerce, it has been a miserable failure when it comes to providing broadband services in rural communities. A "no” vote hinders us in moving forward; a "yes“ vote opens a world of possibilities in solving our current broadband issues.
I urge you to vote "yes“ and exempt Cortez from the restrictions of SB 152.
Karen Sheek has lived in Cortez for more than 40 years. She served on the Cortez City Council for 8½ years and was mayor for six years.