High-speed spending

County justifies $1.2 million telecommunication expenditure

— The Moffat County commissioners have come under the scrutiny of county residents for spending $1.2 million taxpayer dollars to bring high-speed telecommunications to northwest Colorado.

With the completion of a fiber optic line between Rifle and Craig slated for June, the debate over what officials spent to bring fiber optics to Moffat County is getting heated.

Moffat County contracted with a private provider (NC Telecom) to purchase fiber optic capacity from Rifle to Craig a contract that was necessary if Moffat County was to win the state patrol regional dispatch center bid. But, it was the spending of an additional $700,000 for pre-paid services from NC Telecom for a second DS3 line that some locals believe was a frivolous and irresponsible expenditure by the commissioners.

And the commissioners don't yet have an answer as to how the increased bandwidth is going to be divvied up or used by governmental agencies.

"This is probably one of the worst investments in the world," said resident Jeff Taylor, a former electrical engineer and political activist. "They bought an option for $700,000 that is useless to the taxpayer. They might consume it eventually, but it's a throw away because Qwest (formerly US West) already has the fiber here and they don't need that kind of capacity. The commissioners signed a contract with NC Telecom to induce the construction of the fiber from Rifle to Craig but they didn't have to because the fiber is already here."

The Moffat County commissioners needed to have a highly technical DS3 fiber optic line running from Interstate 70 to Craig to win the state patrol call center bid, Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos said. At the time the commissioners awarded the fiber bid to NC Telecom and purchased 10 years of pre-paid services, US West (now Qwest) did not have DS3 fiber running along Colorado Highway 13 and the available fiber didn't have enough capacity to serve the area.

"We recognize that we may not need this fiber today, but from everything we've heard, we do not have the capacity within the area to get the needed T1 lines that people are asking for," Raftopoulos said. "We have been a black hole of telecommunication and will continue to be without this."

The commissioners' intent when purchasing pre-paid services for the second line was to improve not only technology in the valley, but also to bring better county services to taxpayers. In addition, Moffat County was awarded a $600,000 Energy Impact Grant from the Department of Local Affairs to help pay for the advanced telecommunications, Raftopoulos said.

Audrey Danner, executive director for Moffat County Partners, has been involved in the entire telecommunications project from start to finish a project that has taken nearly four years to complete.

She said the goal of the commissioners was to increase the telecommunications capacity and infrastructure in the region.

In reaching that goal, Moffat County was not only awarded the Energy Impact Bid, but also was part of a three-county Beanpole Grant of $1.375 million to offset additional telecommunication costs to Moffat, Routt and Rio Blanco counties.

Raftopoulos said the $500,000 in pre-paid services is for the call center DS3 line for 10 years and the $700,000 in pre-paid services is for the second DS3 line for the county.

The total cost to taxpayers in the end was $600,000 because of the Energy Impact Grant.

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