Sunday, September 15, 2019

County waiting to pursue broadband grant funding

Not prepared with spending plan, numbers too high

By Adam Broderick

The Gunnison Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) decided on Tuesday, July 14, that this summer was not the appropriate time to pursue a $1.2 million Region 10 broadband grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA).

Money from the most recent DOLA grant is still being used to improve broadband connections in the region and the grant would have been used to put in a redundant line, but without a specific action plan to detail further spending, the BOCC felt it better to hold off on accepting any more funding for the time being.

Commissioner Paula Swenson said a 50 percent match in funds was required to receive the grant, which would have required the county to contribute $726,000 and the remaining balance of the match ($474,000) to be divided among the local municipalities.

The BOCC decided that new funds from DOLA would be spent most effectively come winter (the next phase of grant applications for Region 10 funding is due this December) to allow time to spend more funds from the most recent grant and to outline a plan for future spending.

Applying for these DOLA grants is a Region 10 initiative, so Region 10 would construct the detailed spending plan and the BOCC would approve it before allocating matching funds.

The Region 10 League for Economic Assistance and Planning works to improve telecommunication capabilities, capacity, reliability, and availability in six county regions (including Montrose, Delta and Gunnison) so that communities within the region have improved access to affordable broadband Internet services.

Swenson told the board that between Western State Colorado University, IC Connex, Internet Colorado, Time Warner, Century Link and other service providers, there seems to be enough broadband in the area. A consistently reliable connection to current networks is the real issue.

“If we do bring another line in, who will use it?” Swenson asked the board. “We’re talking about $1.2 million so that we have a redundant line from here to Montrose. But we still have to answer so many questions. Is this the best utilization of our resources for broadband? We haven’t even had that conversation as a community. We need to see what the community thinks of this first.”

Commissioner Phil Chamberland agreed that $1.2 million was too much to allocate without an action plan. “We have a strong history of following through with things we commit to. What we’ve been doing is waiting on a plan, and we still haven’t seen one,” he said. “When we see a plan and the allocations are in a $200,000 range, from a county perspective that’s doable. But not these numbers.”

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