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Orchard City will not ask 'opt-out' question in November

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The Orchard City Town Board has hit the brakes and taken a "slow down, wait and see" approach to the coordinated push to place a broadband "opt-out" measure on local November ballots.

The town's trustees at their Aug. 12 regular meeting were advised on the opt-out proposal by representatives of Delta County Economic Development (DCED) and county commissioner Bruce Hovde. But town board members wanted more information and answers to questions, and so called for a special meeting with Region 10 director Michelle Haynes which took place last Thursday.

Following an hour and a half meeting with Haynes about fiber optic network plans, Mayor Don Suppes summed up his board's feeling saying, "There are a lot of unknowns." He added, "We don't really know what is going on."

The trustees decided not to place an opt-out question on the town's November ballot. The decision came down to a simple one of dollars and cents: "Why spend more than we need to spend? We can have this election in April (at the scheduled municipal election) without spending $2,500 to $3,000 for an election in November," Suppes said.

Suppes said that the fiber optic network issue would be discussed in upcoming trustee budget workshops where the town can assess specifics of actual plans for Region 10's fiber optic network and hard costs to the town.

Four of the county's local governments including Delta County have notified the county clerk's office to reserve space on the November ballot for the opt-out votes in their localities. As of last week, Orchard City and Crawford had not done so.

The push for opt-out votes has been supported by Delta County Economic Development, Suppes noted, saying, "I don't understand the DCED push."

The Delta County Commissioners also support the opt-out program.

Haynes explained, "They (DCED) may have thought we needed it to move forward on the project," adding that such wasn't the case. Haynes told the Delta County Independent that the recommendation for local opt-out votes had come originally from Region 10's fiber optic consultant, Diane Kruse of Carbondale's NeoFiber.

The process of opting out refers to a state law -- Senate Bill 152 (SB 152). The law prohibits local governments from entering the Internet service provider (ISP) business. Localities may vote to opt out of the provision, allowing their local governments to engage in the ISP business.

Officials from both DCED and Region 10 have said that opting out will only provide local governments with "options" and "flexibility" in dealing with future local Internet issues. Haynes told the Orchard City trustees, "None of the (local governments) that I know of are planning to use it as a revenue generator." She added, "It's really about economic development."

Haynes's presentation to the Orchard City trustees outlined lots of "what if" scenarios about network build-out possibilities, service options, provider configurations and related matters. The DCI has requested a copy of Region 10's implementation plan. Though in development for a year and the basis of a $5.2 million grant award, the plan is not completed. Also, Haynes explained, the document will have an undetermined number of pages (up to one-third of them) that will be kept from public view by "non-disclosure agreements" among partners in the Region 10 plan.

Some points Haynes made in her presentation to the Orchard City trustees on Aug. 20 include:

• Local governments are being advised to get their own legal advice on opting out and how their intended uses of the Region 10 fiber optic network squares with provisions of SB 152. Even if voters choose to opt out and allow their local governments to engage in the ISP business, local governments would not be required to do so. In addition, there are other, as yet unadjudicated provisions of SB 152 that could come into play, Haynes explained.

• Private ISPs have convinced Region 10 to let them sell Internet access service to "anchor institutions" including government offices, health care, schools and others

• Installation of fiber optic cable from the Orchard City DMEA substation to town hall would cost $11 per foot, or $58,000 per mile for approximately three miles.

• Because it uses existing DMEA fiber optic cable in its network, ultimate cost of Phases I and II in the Region 10 plan is estimated at $14 million to $17 million. If the proposed network were built from scratch, the cost would be closer to $60 million, Haynes said.

• The proposed Region 10 fiber optic service will offer access to local ISPs for a fraction of the wholesale price they are paying now. The wholesale price for gigabit service access could be $1,200 to $1,500 per month.

• The "last mile" Internet service plan being studied by DMEA could take up to 10, and perhaps as long as 14 years to complete. A consultant has pegged cost of 100 percent build-out of the DMEA plan at more than $90 million.

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broadband, DMEA, Orchard City
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