Council should move quickly on broadband
After soliciting a raft of private-sector proposals on how to establish citywide high-speed internet service, Grand Junction City Council members hit the brakes Monday, refusing to commit to a partnership model they chose themselves.
That’s frustrating. It seems foolish for the council to suddenly question all of the time and research spent determining the best course of action by resurrecting cost questions that should have been answered by now.
But a pause may actually be the best thing. For one thing, we know too little about how we got to the present situation and the potential liabilities in play. Discussions have been secretive, presumably because potential contracts are being vetted.
The council met in executive session Monday, but not before some council members voiced concerns about the project.
Councilor Rick Taggart wants a better survey to determine residential and customer demand for gigabit service. He’s also uncomfortable with the city owning the fiber network.
Councilors have already agreed to a public-private model in which the city would build, finance and own the broadband network, a private firm would operate it and protections would be instituted for the city to recoup its investment.
Rather than blowing up all the work that got us to the point, the city should shell out for a third-party analysis of a consultant’s assumptions upon which the winning proposal was based.
That would keep the project on a faster track than starting over. But we would hope that city officials would find a way for these deliberations to take place in public, given the potential for a multimillion-dollar outlay of capital.
Voters approved an override of a state law barring municipalities from providing internet services. That suggests they want something better than current market-based options. Economic development proponents have made gigabit broadband service a cornerstone of their plan to attract jobs and businesses. Everything is pointing to a need for affordable, high-capacity broadband regardless of whether surveys reflect a current demand.
City officials should be building this network with an eye on tomorrow. It could take up to three years to build a fiber network. By then, ubiquitous gigabit service may be a baseline competitor communities have left in the dust.
We should strategically target potential business hubs first. Make downtown the priority and then expand into residential areas. Residential service is important, too, because the home office is the business office of the future for many tech-savvy entrepreneurs.
Affordable, high-speed internet has become a modern utility — something that everyone needs, like electricity, natural gas and water. The council cannot kick this can down the road. It needs to move quickly, but deliberately and transparently, to establish this service in a way that we’re all comfortable with.