Broadband should be priority, not an option

Does anybody think investing in the interstate highway system was a bad idea?

Should we have waited on the private sector to recognize a need and build supersized toll roads according to existing demand?

Such questions are analogous to the future of broadband in this community. Too often, in our estimation, the debate is framed by whether we need expansive high-speed internet today — right now — and whether people are willing to pay for it.

But one of the problems is that too many of us don’t understand how critical broadband is to our future. We’re living by figurative candlelight. Until we get the light bulb, we can’t understand how bad the candle is — or why we should invest in an electrical grid.

While pondering a path to greater broadband capacity, we should understand we’re not filling a need for today. We’re filling a need for five, 10 and 20 years down the road. That’s why calls for market and feasibility studies don’t make sense. If we wait for widespread demand to kick in, we’ll be hopelessly behind in the digital economy.

Some people get it. A group of high-tech entrepreneurs hosted Grand Junction City Councilor Rick Taggart Thursday, hoping to learn more about why the city is pumping the brakes on broadband expansion.

Taggart, who knows a thing or two about product development from his days as CEO of Swiss Army Brands, shared his reservations about costs, take rates and competing with “incumbent” private providers.

As The Sentinel’s Erin McIntyre summarized: “He’s not OK with the fact that the city hasn’t done a feasibility study to assess how many people and businesses would actually commit to paying for the service, and that from a business standpoint, it’s irresponsible to not evaluate the financial details of the project before proceeding.”

Fair enough. We can’t expect the city to plunge blindly into debt. But audience members of the LAUNCH West CO event shared several ideas that challenge the notion that the city must spend $60 million to install fiber lines or must quantify how many households and businesses need to subscribe to hit a break-even point.

Yes, the city should be exploring options and considering costs, but from a standpoint of moving forward — not whether to move at all. In a city election in 2015, 77 percent of voters authorized the city to play a role in telecommunications service.

“That’s not a feasibility study,” Taggart said. He’s right. Turnout was about 36 percent of the city’s 31,500 active voters. But the message was clear. If voters had been satisfied with the pace of demand-driven private investment in broadband infrastructure, the city would never have started examining its options.

So can we please dispense with questions about whether we need to do this now and focus on how we’re going to make it happen?


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