Colorado State Senator - District 6

 

Don in the News

New law a boost for rural broadband
May 26, 2018

Katharhynn Heidelberg
 

If high-speed broadband is, as Gov. John Hickenlooper put it, “like oxygen” for opportunity, the bill he signed here Friday stands to breathe life into rural areas.


“I believe broadband is like oxygen to small communities,” Hickenlooper said after formally inking Senate Bill 2, the Financing of Rural Broadband Deployment Act.


“In the modern world, if you don’t have broadband, it’s hard to be healthy and to grow. It’s like oxygen, but also, it’s like food,” Hickenlooper said.


Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, was the bill’s primary sponsor, along with Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg and, in the House, Reps. KC Becker and Crisanta Duran.


Among key provisions, the act requires the Public Utilities Commission to allocate 60 percent of the high-cost support mechanism money that non-rural carriers would receive to broadband deployment, starting in 2019.


In years following, the PUC would allocate an additional 10 percent of the total money the non-rural carrier would receive to broadband deployment, until 2023, when all the high-cost support mechanism money the non-rural carriers would receive would be allocated to the broadband deployment fund.


The high-cost support mechanism comes from a surcharge on telephone bills and was originally intended to bring landline service to underserved, rural areas. The mechanism was repurposed a few years ago to help bring broadband to rural areas.


The new law also changes the statutory definition of broadband network from 4 megabits per second to at least 10 per second and also defines an “unserved area” as one that is not incorporated or within a city of fewer than 7,500 residents, not receiving federal support to build a broadband network to serve the majority of households.


Coram, who hosted Hickenlooper and other state and local officials at The Coffee Trader’s garden Friday, said SB2 was one of the best bills he ran this busy legislative session.


“I think we finally got across the line with something that will bring funding into Colorado in a substantial way. I don’t think you can do anything that will facilitate creating more jobs than efficient, effective broadband,” Coram said. “The one piece that we need to bring jobs and spur that rural economy is broadband.”


Coram praised Elevate Fiber, the broadband subsidiary company of Delta-Montrose Electric Association, and Rep. Marc Catlin, a fellow Montrose Republican whose complementary broadband bill was signed into law last month.


“We had to wrestle a bit to get it right,” DMEA board member Tony Prendergast said. “But it was a good process and the senators and representatives worked with us. By the end of it, it turned out to be a useful bill that will benefit this area.”


Hickenlooper said the new law stands to benefit not just areas like Montrose, but also more remote sections of the state, such as Nucla and Naturita. “When you get broadband to these places, it’s not the final solution, but it’s a big first step,” he said.


In his remarks to the crowd, Hickenlooper said sufficient bandwidth is imperative to successful entrepreneurship in rural areas. The bill caps seven years of efforts.


“This has been a priority since we first started. … But always, the challenge has been finding the funding and being able to get past some of the hurdles of how we (get) the high-cost (mechanism) money reallocated to broadband,” Hickenlooper said.


“Now we’re using that same structure to get broadband in every part of the state.”


The state expects the act will generate between $110 million and $140 million toward broadband deployment over the next several years, he said.


A short time later, with Percy and Jude (the young sons of DMEA Chief Operating Officer Virginia Harman) at his side, Hickenlooper put his name to SB 2.


“All right,” he said to applause. “That’s a law.”


Katharhynn Heidelberg is an award-winning journalist and the senior writer for the Montrose Daily Press. Follow her on Twitter @kathMDP.

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