Guest opinion: Why a college put an initiative on the ballot | PostIndependent.com

Guest opinion: Why a college put an initiative on the ballot

Jim English

You might have heard something about this year’s Ballot Initiative 4D, or similar “broadband initiatives.” This year more than 40 counties, cities and school districts in Colorado, including Colorado Mountain College, are putting initiatives like these before their local voters.

At the Sept. 2 meeting of the Colorado Mountain College board of trustees, the trustees voted unanimously to put initiative 4D onto the ballot. They did so for several reasons:

• The initiative would provide the college with relief from Senate Bill 152, a 2005 law that limits the ability of local governmental entities — including CMC — to provide telecommunications services unless a majority of voters approves otherwise.

• Voter approval would allow the college to participate in telecommunications projects if needed to further the college’s educational mission.

• Because four CMC trustee seats are on the ballot this fall, there would be minimal cost in adding this question to the ballot.

Ballot language can be confusing. In layman’s terms, if 4D is approved by voters, the college would have the legal authority to fund telecommunications infrastructure or, if needed, provide its own telecommunications services for delivery of educational services. Though the college has no plans to develop such services at the moment, passage of this initiative would facilitate collaborations among the college and local governments — or even public-private partnerships, with large or small Internet service providers or others.

Since SB 152 was enacted, Colorado voters have given 10 local governments the authority to provide their own telecommunication services. This year, 26 municipalities and 17 counties are asking for similar authorization, according to the Denver Post.

Why are so many governments approaching their voters for relief from SB 152?

As the chair of Club 20’s telecommunications committee, I am acutely aware of the broadband needs of the communities of Colorado’s Western Slope. The need for Internet access has changed greatly over the past decade. Nonetheless, numerous communities in rural Colorado still lack adequate broadband service because of sparse population, remote location or difficult terrain. Government-funded projects could create additional broadband networks in rural areas, allowing private industry to deliver critical broadband services to our communities.

Reliable Internet service is essential to colleges in the 21st century and our local economies. With 11 campus sites across a 12,000-square-mile service area, CMC has a large and increasing demand for broadband, which includes supporting an extensive interactive video system and hundreds of online courses.

The college has no specific plans to invest in broadband at this time, and 4D creates no new fiscal impact. But students’ demand for high-speed broadband and faculty use of technology in the classroom continue to evolve, and CMC has a responsibility to continually adapt to remain academically relevant. Approval of 4D simply provides CMC with administrative flexibility in planning for an ever-changing future.

Jim English is the director of networks and technical services at Colorado Mountain College.


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