Rural Colo. deserves better broadband

Friday, March 30, 2018 2:06 PM

People with broadband service get to fill out college applications at home, watch YouTube videos, email friends and research important topics.

Those without have to work in coffee shops, library parking lots or during lunch at work.

For people in urban areas, these problems may seem insignificant, but for those of us in rural areas, the lack of broadband can feel crippling.

So we're doing something about it at the legislature this year. We've written three bills designed to alleviate the lack of service and bring rural Colorado into the 21st century. Each cleared their final hurdles in the House and Senate last week and await approval from the governor.

Under HB-1099, which I cosponsored with Rep. Marc Catlin, if a new provider bids to provide high-speed service for an unserved rural community, a company that is already active in the area and has the right of first refusal may either let the new company go ahead, or else they must match the speed and price the new company is offering. The bottom line? Unserved areas of Colorado get quality, affordable broadband. It's no surprise the bill received unanimous approval in the Senate this Friday.

This would be good for jobs and economic growth in our communities; 60 laid-off miners in Western Colorado have found jobs putting in fiber optic lines. And when they're done, small businesses can accept credit cards and home-based businesses can thrive. Finally.

SB-2, sponsored by Sen. Don Coram and by the House Speaker and Majority Leader, is another major bipartisan effort, and is a game-changer.

This bill transfers money from one use to another, modernizing communications in rural Colorado. Currently, most of the $35 million brought in to the High Cost Support Mechanism each year goes to expanding landline service; SB-2 would phase that money into grants for broadband deployment.

It also requires providers receiving these grants to provide faster speeds. Communities with speeds of less than 10 megabits for downloading and 1 megabit for uploading would be prioritized, and grant recipients would have to provide speeds of at least 25 down and 3 up.

This is a good bipartisan bill that will have major benefits for rural areas. It passed with broad support.

Finally, I ran SB-104 with Rep. Yeulin Willett to allow the Broadband Deployment Board to apply to the FCC Remote Areas Fund. The fund is designed to be used in remote areas of the country and we want to make sure that includes our rural areas here in Colorado.

We're not sure if the fund has enough money right now to meet the great needs, but we want to be prepared when it does.

I'm working hard to focus on a lofty goal: fairness, communication and opportunity for rural Colorado. These three bills will make a major impact for our community, and I'm excited to see the benefits they will bring for years to come.

Barbara McLachlan

Colorado House District 59