Letter: Why should MPE increase electric rates to build fiber-optic backbone?
March 5, 2018
Why should MPE increase electric rates to build fiber-optic backbone?
I was stunned to see the article in the Sky-Hi News on this subject Feb. 21, 2018. Just the week before, I turned in my petition to run for the Mountain Parks Electric (MPE) Board in District 5 (the area around Grand Lake) and indicated the main issue facing the cooperative "is taking unnecessary financial risk to offer broadband internet service. A backbone fiber optic network is not needed to provide electric service, so any venture to offer broadband internet service should have all costs paid by those users and not electric ratepayers."
Based on the MPE press release and news article, it is clear to me that this project is not needed to provide electric service, but rather to enable broadband internet service. So why should 100 percent of electric customers pay more to subsidize an optional service (broadband internet) for a small percent of members who may benefit possibly someday in the future? I do not care if the present board and general manager consider that "the backbone investment is not expected to have a significant impact on MPE's electrical rates" – it is the wrong thing to do. It is going to be forced on all ratepayers, most of whom are middle income working families and small businesses struggling to make ends meet, not to mention those disabled/retired on fixed incomes and low-income families. I hate to say it, but this decision makes me think that the Colorado Public Utilities Commission should have jurisdiction over MPE's rates.
I am fortunate to have broadband internet service provided by Comcast at my home for $50/month, the lowest cost I have found in my area. Recently I saw an ad for satellite broadband internet for $50/month with 5-times the speed required by a popular video streaming service and I would try that if not for Comcast's availability. Does anyone really expect that this MPE project will enable a lower cost internet service to those underserved areas?
Something about the MPE story does not make sense to me. Where are the maps showing where this system will be installed? Where are actual cost facts and figures? How much is the rate increase? Who are the last-mile providers waiting to jump on the MPE middle mile system and what are the expected revenues from those providers? How much will they charge for broadband internet? MPE surveyed 400 members who agree that 'low-cost, high-speed internet is "very important to the future of the local economy."' And yet MPE is not planning to offer that service and will have no control over the retail cost charged for such. What is the rest of the story? I have requested MPE provide me more details.
I encourage you to read a Denver Post story published Jan. 21, 2018 titled "Rangely selling a new economy" where Rio Blanco County obtained grants and funding four or five years ago for a multimillion-dollar infrastructure upgrade that brought speedy internet to Rangely and Meeker. I was impressed to see that Rangely is one campus of Colorado Northwestern Community College, a great addition to any rural community. Yet they struggle with their local economy cycling with oil boom and bust. This shows me that broadband internet is not a magic solution to the future of any local economy.
I support broadband internet in our rural areas when done as a separately funded enterprise, or perhaps by Grand and Jackson counties using grant funds when available. MPE could hold off and seek grant funds to pay for this backbone system. MPE should stick with what they know how to do well, which is to provide electric service for all members safely, reliably, and at fair rates based on an independent cost of service study done by a qualified consultant.
Les Shankland, Grand County