Grand Junction puts broadband plan on hold

Councilors not sure about city ownership of network

The Grand Junction City Council thought it knew how it wanted to proceed in supplying broadband to the city, but councilors may be holding off on plans a bit.

Some councilors indicated during a workshop Monday night they wanted to rethink their strategy.

Councilors previously had agreed to a model of providing broadband that includes having the city build a dark fiber network to every home and business in the city, finance and own the network and contract with an operator to provide the electronics and resources to operate the network, providing internet services to customers. Councilors had also expected it would take roughly three years to build out the infrastructure.

On Monday, during a workshop that directly preceded an executive session to discuss a proposal from an internet provider, councilors hedged on their plans.

Councilor Marty Chazen said the idea for the city to help facilitate broadband expansion started as a need expressed by economic development proponents but since has grown into a plan by the city to provide broadband for all households. He questioned if residents wanted or needed expanded broadband services. And he noted that the plan now seemed to be driven by a “government model” instead of a market provider, a plan that seemed to have flipped since the city first starting discussing ways to expand internet services locally.

“If we build this out citywide are we wasting our money? What is the most economical way?” Chazen said.

Councilor Rick Taggart also said he’d like to take a pause and redo a community survey. A first attempt at a survey was biased, he said.

“If we do a good survey we can determine the commercial and residential demand,” he said. “We’re not in the business of creating demand. I’d like to explore other public/private partnerships. I think the last thing we should be doing is owning it.”

The City Council had directed its broadband consultant NEOConnect to enter into contract negotiations with a model that parallels one used in Westminster, Maryland.

Councilor Chris Kennedy warned that waiting too long to decide on a model, enter into a contract and start the process of building infrastructure could hamper broadband growth. He also argued that residents, not simply businesses, were in favor of expanded service.

“That’s why 77 percent of the voters said yes to it,” Kennedy said about the citizens’ vote to override Senate Bill 152. The override allows governments to at least explore broadband opportunities for communities.

“The whole premise when we started this conversation was to connect gigabit service,” Kennedy said.

Councilors noted that in the wake of the override a number of companies have come forward with proposals to offer broadband services in Grand Junction. CenturyLink and Charter Spectrum also have increased their broadband offerings to businesses in the area.


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