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Coram: A victory for rural broadband

Sen. Don Coram

In rural Colorado, a farmer can lose tens of thousands of dollars in one day, a broken hip can take a week to get the right diagnosis and children flock to schools at night.

Not because they want to and not for after-school activities. They flock to the schools because they live in rural Colorado, and the only internet reliable enough to finish their work is at school.

We have been fighting in the Legislature for the better part of a decade to help rural communities get broadband. What we are proposing is not a hand out, rather a high cost fund helping underserved areas – a fund that provides much needed help to rural broadband providers in areas where the costs would be too high otherwise. That is, of course, if 92 percent of it isn’t going to a single company that already receives hundreds of millions in subsidies from the federal government.

The high cost fund has been restricted by a company being granted the power to refuse other companies bids if they believe they can serve an area. This power was granted after a lengthy court case and has since been used irresponsibly to use much of the funds. In the end, the high cost fund was not being used for its original purpose.

Today, I am pleased to announce that Senate District 6, and all of rural Colorado, has scored a major victory. Senate Bill 2 passed and is on its way to the governor as I type. This bill redefines what an underserved area is under the high cost fund and will allow funds to reach much needed areas of Colorado.

This has not been easy. Companies have used large phone banks to call constituents and tell them that their phone bills will be going up. Immediately after the call, they transfer them to their legislator’s office. This is done in an attempt to pressure legislators to vote against fixing the high cost fund. A fund that’s purpose was not to subsidize phone bills, but to provide much needed funds to broadband infrastructure in rural areas. This action has done less to pressure legislators from doing the right thing and more to panic individuals on fixed incomes.

The fight for rural broadband is not over, though. Rep. Catlin (R-Montrose) and Rep. McLachlan (D-Durango) have introduced HB 1099, which also would level the playing field. HB 1099 would change the stipulation on how companies would be able to use their power to refuse bids if they can serve underserved areas. Instead of, and before, just refusing the project, the company refusing must propose a project that can be completed in the same amount of time and provide the same internet speeds. They would no longer be able to refuse a bid, run a few wires out and call it service.

Rural Colorado and the Western Slope have gained some major victories this week. I will continue on the back of this momentum to make Southwest Colorado’s voices heard.

Don Coram, R-Montrose, represents State Senate District 6. Contact Sen. Coram at (303) 866-4884 or don@doncoram.com. During the legislative session, Sen. Coram and Rep. McLachlan share this column on alternate weeks.

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