Mayor Karen Sheek announced the forum on Feb. 2 as a way to educate the candidates on the issues surrounding affordable high-speed internet in Cortez, but it will also be open to the public.
Representatives from the city and the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments will speak about what local leaders are doing to secure broadband, as well as the challenges that must be overcome. The forum will be held in the council chambers at City Hall starting at 6 p.m., and attendees are asked to RSVP by Feb. 15.
According to Sheek’s announcement, the event will include a presentation from Miriam Gillow-Wiles, executive director of SWCCOG, on the methods that group hopes to use to make broadband more available throughout Southwest Colorado. City Manager Shane Hale will present the city of Cortez’s plans for the future of broadband.
Montezuma County leaders have been trying to form a strategy to deliver faster, more affordable internet service to residents for several years. Connect 4, a broadband-focused group of representatives from the county and the municipal governments within it, has sponsored two surveys over the past two years that showed increasing demand for broadband but has not solidified a strategy to meet that demand.
The group has not met publicly since August, and Sheek, a member, said it appears to have fizzled.
“It’s kind of in quasi-existence, but we’ve had a hard time getting a consensus on how to move on,” she said. “The individual entities are moving forward and pursuing goals specific to their own needs.”
The city of Cortez has had some success with its own internet goals, having provided fiber to most of the businesses within town limits through the Cortez Community Network Fiber Project. But the city has not yet reached its ultimate goal of providing “fiber to the home” for all residents.
A bill currently working its way through the Colorado Legislature may make it easier for rural areas like Montezuma County to get access to broadband. Senate Bill 2, which is being sponsored by state Sen. Don Coram and three other elected officials, would take money that currently goes to CenturyLink, one of the few available internet providers in rural areas, and transfer it to a state broadband fund. The bill was unanimously approved in January by the Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee, but it has yet to reach the Senate floor for debate.
Sheek said the forum on Feb. 20 is intended to “raise awareness” of Cortez’s need for high-speed internet, and give potential council members ideas on how they could help meet that need.
Depending on the success of this forum, she said, the city may host another one in the future geared more toward informing the general public.