Town officials say that opting out of Senate Bill 152 would give Mancos more opportunities to use its 3,300 feet of fiber optics line. But voters will decide April 5 whether the town can be free from the binds of the bill.
Right now, those fiber lines hook up only to public buildings, said Mancos Town Administrator Andrea Phillips. The town can’t offer broadband Internet service to businesses or residents, she said.
SB 152 requires local government to seek voter approval before providing telecommunications services. It also prevents municipalities from entering into private-public partnerships or expanding networks to provide those services.
The Mancos Board of Trustees passed a resolution March 9 urging citizens to vote in favor of authorizing the town to opt out.
Phillips said exemption from the bill would let the town explore more options.
“It’s an anti-competition bill,” she said. “This gives us a lot more leeway.”
Those options might include a private-public partnership or leasing some of the fiber lines that currently aren’t being used, Phillips said. But since town staffers are focused on the vote to opt out, the Board of Trustees hasn’t decided on any concrete plans for the town’s broadband future should Mancos gain the ability to opt out of the bill. The town has no plans to create a public broadband utility.
Opting out of the bill could give Mancos an opportunity to collaborate with other area governments, such as Montezuma County, Phillips said.
Dolores has joined with Montezuma County on a plan to deliver broadband service to the area, and agreed to chip in $3,334 toward a feasibility study. The county has allocated $60,000, and hired Optimum Fiber Solutions to study Internet demand and infrastructure needs in the county and on the Ute Mountain Ute land. The county and Dolores also plan to ask voters to opt out of SB 152.
The Southwest Colorado Council of Governments got a $3 million grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs to lay fiber in communities across the region. Fiber in Mancos was laid over the past few years and was hooked up to government buildings last year, Phillips said.
Mancos Valley Chamber of Commerce Administrator Marie Chiarizia said opting out of SB 152 would help the chamber market Mancos as being Internet-friendly.
“It’s all about economic vitality,” she said.
Town visitors use Internet to get information about tourism and travel, she said. As companies continue to rely on telecommunication to be competitive, speedy service would benefit businesses, she added.
Mancos potentially could make broadband service available anywhere in the town if it’s exempted from SB 152, Chiarizia said. Outdoor events such as Mancos Days draw temporary vendors, and broadband access would allow those vendors to be able to take credit and debit cards more quickly, she said.
If voters don’t give Mancos officials the authority to opt out of the bill, Chiarizia said it would be business as usual with the town’s current slow Internet service. Mancos would miss out on a competitive edge, she said.
“To look to the future and become prosperous you have to look at the infrastructure of the town and offer these services,” Chiarizia said.
Being able to provide citizens with fast service cold benefit Mancos’ growth, she added.
Other municipalities in Archuleta, La Plata and San Juan counties, including Bayfield, Durango, Ignacio, Silverton and Telluride, already have opted out. Mancos stands out from those communities, though, Chiarizia said.
“Mancos is a unique community unto itself, but this will help us promote our town better and place us on a competitive edge,” she said.