Cortez voters to decide broadband’s future

Believe it or not, it’s election time again, at least in the city of Cortez. On Tuesday, June 8, residents will be voting on a measure that would allow the city to enter into broadband partnerships or business.

Cortez is seeking to join a host of oth­er governmental entities that have already taken control of their broadband futures by opting out of a measure passed by the state legislature in 2005, SB 152.

Montezuma and La Plata counties as well as the municipalities of Mancos, Dolores, Durango, Ignacio, Bayfield, Telluride, Grand Junction, Montrose, and Delta are among the local governments on the West Slope whose voters have opted out of SB 152. So far, at least 40 counties and 105 municipali­ties statewide have opted out, according to numerous sources.

The Cortez ballot question will ask voters whether the authority of the city to provide high-speed internet, telecommunication, and/or cable television services should be “affirmed and reestablished.”

“If the measure passes, service can be provided either directly or indirectly through public or private partnerships,” explained Rick Smith, general-services director for Cortez, in a phone interview. “It would give the city the ability to explore options on how to move forward.”

The legislature passed SB 152 at the urg­ing of large, corporate service providers that did not want competition. The measure gen­erally prohibits local governments from pro­viding broadband and certain other services without a vote of their residents.

Cortez was originally thought to be unaf­fected by the measure because it already had a small broadband network in place at the time that the bill was passed. However, city officials have decided that voters do need to pass the opt-out if they want more broad­band options.

“The legal opinion we originally had was over 10 years ago,” Smith said. “Voters do need to do the opt-out if we are to provide options to move forward. If we don’t, we are very limited in what avenues and options the city can take.” The Cortez Community Network cur­rently allows for service to government, and private service providers are allowed to use the network.

“The City does not provide any services – it just provides the digital road for others to use,” the city’s website states. “The network currently has over 120,000 linear feet of fiber throughout Cortez. The current system serves City facilities, County facilities, Hospital, Fire District, and School District, and parts of the downtown core business district.” If voters pass the exemption, “the com­munity would be permitted to establish busi­ness partnerships with private companies to increase access to high-speed broad­band internet, opt to provide this service itself, or develop a combined strategy to benefit residents and businesses alike,” according to a flyer about the election. The measure would not prevent any pri­vate provider from starting new services or continuing to pro­vide existing services.

“The City of Cortez does not have plans to create a public broadband utility, nor do any communities within the county,” the flyer states.

The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the need for widely accessible, high-speed, and affordable broadband, many locals be­lieve.

“The city has always been interested in getting for the citizens affordable and abundant broadband so they can meet their needs,” Smith said.

Ballots will be mailed to voters by Mon­day, May 17. Ballots can be dropped off at: • City Hall dropbox in the rear parking lot of City Hall, 123 Roger Smith Ave. • Inside City Hall, 123 Roger Smith Ave.

They can also be mailed back to City Hall at the same address.

Ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 8.

From May 2021.