Senator’s bill rubs commissioners wrong |

Senator’s bill rubs commissioners wrong

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times

Pitkin County commissioners are concerned that a bill introduced by a state senator who represents the Aspen area may set back efforts to provide broadband service to rural areas.

“We don’t want new conditions muddying the waters,” Commissioner Rachel Richards said. “This sets us back. It seems somewhat industry-oriented.”

Pitkin County voters overwhelmingly passed a ballot question in November — more than 92 percent of the electorate voted for it — that allows the county to opt out of a 2005 state Senate bill forbidding governments from competing with the private broadband service industry.

Pitkin County would not become an Internet provider but would team up with a private company to provide better broadband service in unincorporated communities like Redstone, Thomasville and the Castle Creek Valley, county officials said in the fall.

However, state Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Vail Democrat, has introduced a bill during the current legislative session that provides new definitions regarding broadband service. That bill is making counties, municipalities and other entities whose voters have opted out of the 2005 bill uncomfortable, said Kara Silbernagel, a Pitkin County management analyst.

“It actually seems to make it more restrictive for counties moving forward,” Silbernagel said.

Richards said the lingering issues with the 2005 bill are problematic, and that it would be better to simply repeal it. She suggested commissioners write Donovan a letter expressing their negative opinion about her bill.

“We ask that you kill the bill,” she said.

Commissioner George Newman agreed.

“Does this mean we only opted out of parts of (the 2005 bill)?” Newman asked. “We opted out, and we should not be having this discussion at all.”

Commissioner Patti Clapper said that in light of many communities opting out of the restrictions imposed by the 2005 bill in the November election, Donovan’s new bill could be an attempt by the broadband industry to fight back with more regulations.

“That’s kind of what it seems like,” Silbernagel said.

“We don’t often disagree with Sen. Donovan,” Clapper said, “but in this case we do.”

Commissioner Michael Owsley summed up the discussion succinctly.

“The best way for industry to address this is to provide service,” he said.

Donovan did not return a phone message Tuesday seeking comment.