Broadband change will go before Pitkin County voters |

Broadband change will go before Pitkin County voters

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times

Pitkin County commissioners Wednesday gave their initial blessing to a ballot question that aims to improve Internet service throughout the area, especially in rural sections plagued by spotty telecommunications.

By a 4-0 vote — Commissioner Patti Clapper was absent — commissioners approved on first reading a question asking voters for approval to opt out of a 2005 state Senate bill. The bill, titled Competition in Utility and Entertainment Services, forbids governments from competing with the private sector over broadband service.

Approval of the Nov. 3 ballot question, which doesn’t seek a tax increase, would allow Pitkin County to explore ways to improve its broadband infrastructure, possibly through a public-private partnership. The county has indicated it has no intention to become an Internet service provider.

Pitkin joins numerous other Colorado counties and municipalities aiming to override Senate Bill 152 in the Nov. 3 elections.

“The law has not been updated since (it took effect), not modified since, even though the industry has changed tremendously by leaps and bounds,” Commissioner Rachel Richards said. “Areas without dense population are not getting service whatsoever.”

Those areas include such unincorporated communities as Redstone, Thomasville and Castle Creek Valley.

While there’s no tax increase with the passage of the question, Richards noted the county would be able to accept grants to help fund improvements.

The county will have another meeting Sept. 2 in order to formalize the ballot language, which must be set by Sept. 4, said Assistant County Manager Phylis Mattice.

In other county news:

• Pitkin County’s dispatch center, facing a shortage of workers, will team with the town of Vail to shore up the deficit. Commissioners voted 4-0 at a second reading to use dispatchers from Vail’s 911 center on a needed basis. Pitkin County will pay $37 an hour to Vail to use their dispatchers. The county will allow at least eight hours a week for Vail’s dispatchers, who would come to Aspen to work.

Bruce Romero, Pitkin County emergency dispatch director, said the county hopes eventually to be on the statewide digital system, which would mean Vail dispatchers could operate from their home base. But for now, they’ll have to commute to Aspen.