No matter the Grand Valley’s opinion, the economic future is coming
In my initial column, I told you that I grew up in an Olathe-sized town in southern Idaho. Ninety minutes northwest, Boise was beginning to bloom into an intermountain economic powerhouse. Boise had laid down infrastructure and opened itself to technology companies, who were happy set up shop in a small city with no traffic, low cost of living, and impeccable outdoor recreation just minutes from downtown.
Can anyone think of another small city like that?
Our city has a beautiful downtown, good public services, world-class outdoor recreation, low real estate prices, and no traffic. It also has an economic identity crisis. Shall we perpetually wait idly by for the next fossil fuel boom? Or should we invest in burgeoning technologies and join cities like Boise, Provo, Bend, and Fort Collins in the “New West”?
It was a welcome sight when Ballot Measure 2A went to Grand Junction voters in April 2015. The measure asked whether the city should provide high-speed internet and telecommunications services based on future technological needs. I was delighted to see the measure pass with the support of 74 percent of the voters.
Despite the clear mandate from the community, almost two years later, there is ongoing debate on whether to implement such a system at all.
Now, I lack the credentials to fully comprehend the technologies proposed here. But I have enjoyed recent pieces in the Sentinel by Josh Hudnall (local software entrepreneur) and City Council member Chris Kennedy on the “pro” side, and Margaret Mire (of the DC-based Americans for Tax Reform) and fellow columnist Rick Wagner on the “con” side.
Mr. Kennedy’s op-ed argued that low-cost high-speed internet service is essential for attracting startups, telecommuters, and a variety of businesses.
Ms. Mire made three arguments: (1) The current internet speed is good enough (above the national median); (2) The cost is excessive, and poses risk; and (3) A government-owned network would unfairly compete with private enterprises.
But I wanted to quote my colleague Rick Wagner’s Feb. 9 column, in which he argued that citizens should utilize “government to create an environment for business — not government getting into a business.” On this particular broadband issue, Mr. Wagner encouraged “more grassroots thinking about creating a business friendly and accessible environment.” I could not agree more. Luckily, we have had solid input from our community.
A Feb. 4 Sentinel article described a meeting between two Canada-based tech companies, an investor, and Grand Junction’s own ProStar Geocorp CEO Page Tucker. The group discussed “how Grand Junction can develop as a global technology hub.” My attention was particularly drawn here: “One thing is certain, the participants said they would prefer to seek out opportunity on the Western Slope over the crowded freeway and expensive housing of Denver….”
After reading Josh Hudnall’s Jan. 29 op-ed, I contacted him to learn more about the city’s plan. His points: (1) The city would not be an internet service provider (“ISP”); that would be left to the private sector. But the city would own the physical fiber, and maintain control to prevent an ISP monopoly. (2) Sooner than we think, cities without gigabit fiber will not be able to compete with other cities around the state (and the country) to attract entrepreneurs and investment. (3) He underscored that only a few years from now, nearly 50 percent of the workforce will work from home or co-working spaces as opposed to traditional offices. (4) As we utilize internet from for more purposes (business, home, commerce), and from more devices, we will consume more and more internet bandwidth.
For me, a layperson, the thesis is simple: Just because Grand Junction may not “need” gigabit fiber today is not an indicator of our future needs. An old coaching adage: “You are either getting better, or getting worse.” The future technological needs of our community are coming, whether we believe it or not.
The City Council meets on March 1 to vote on generating engineering reports and studies on how to build the network, at an estimated cost of $200,000. To me, it is a small price to pay for that information, which either be needed now (as a smart investment) or in the future (when the need is urgent).
I agree with Hudnall. It’s important to make wise decisions, but we can’t afford to wait. If Grand Junction can’t provide the tools of the future, the workforce will move somewhere that can. As Wagner’s column advised, community members should push government to create a good environment for business. I implore citizens to do just that, and let their City Council members know the importance of this project before the March 1 vote.