The conversation regarding bringing high-speed broadband Internet services to rural Delta County has been ongoing ever since Region 10 received grant money from the Department of Local Affairs for creation of a regional broadband network within the region. For the Town of Hotchkiss, much of the focus is now on fiduciary responsibility.
The town's share of last-mile infrastructure costs is estimated to be $117,000, payable over a two-year period, although that amount could be reduced significantly. Delta County could add matching funds to cover the town's share of "last-mile" costs. That would create carrier-neutral locations within the town, from which services can be sent to anchor institutions, and ultimately to homes and businesses. Final-mile construction is expected to begin in 2016.
Two grants now in the final stages of development by DOLA and DCED could lower that figure, said Mayor Wendell Koontz Monday at a special meeting to discuss the broadband project and the town's draft 2016 budget.
A broad spectrum of comments has been heard by trustees, from the service being absolutely necessary to attract and maintain businesses, to it being unnecessary because high-speed access is already here.
The bottom line, said trustee Larry Jakubiak, is, "We still have responsibility to our citizens. If they don't want it, then..."
The town will have a better understanding of what the public wants when results of the countywide coordinated elections are known. On the ballot, voters were asked to opt out of SB 05-152, which prohibits the use of public funds for creation of infrastructure to provide "advanced services," including high-speed and broadband Internet service.
Region 10 obtained a $5.2 million DOLA grant for the project earlier this year, which is being used for building "middle-mile" infrastructure. Election outcome will not affect middle-mile work on the project, since Region 10 is working within the confines of SB 05-152, said executive director Michelle Haynes, who attended the meeting.
Even if the measure fails, the town can still invest in the last-mile project, but it would decrease its flexibility in providing services, including the option to provide wireless access in public spaces, according to Haynes. It would also allow the town to own its network, although trustees have taken the official stand that they will not enter into business of providing Internet services.
While the town has not made a final decision on whether to spend taxpayer money for the project, "I think we need to continue the budget, even if the town citizens rise up and say we don't want this," said Mayor Wendell Koontz.
"I think they want it," said trustee Thomas Wills. "But the end of the line is, how soon is it going to happen? What's it going to cost?"
Haynes said that while costs for services remain somewhat uncertain, Internet service providers are expressing interest in coming into the area, and others will likely follow, which will help keep costs competitive. High-speed broadband service is seen as a way to attract businesses to the area. When service becomes available, "and you're bringing 10 or 15 jobs into the area, that's a good investment," said Haynes.
Trustees present at the meeting agree that they could find the money for the project. But because it's in the budget doesn't mean it has to be spent, said town clerk Marlene Searle.
Koontz emphasized that the $117,000 estimate is high. At $5,500 per anchor point, that number could be reduced by $38,500. If other public entities want to be an anchor point, then, theoretically, they could put up the $5,500, said Koontz.