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Bridging the Gaps in Business and Education
Gail Schoettler

Telecommunications is a dominating force in the American economy today. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 promised to unleash the powerful forces of the market in deploying telecommunications services, lowering prices, and generally freeing us from an over-regulated environment that was stifling the industry. Other than its impact on large business users in our cities, what we have seen to date is higher cable television charges and slightly lower costs for long distance phone calls. The primary focus of the providers has been mergers and acquisitions.

In Colorado, where we largely deregulated telecommunications before the federal act, market forces are driving new infrastructure and services along the I-25 and I-70 corridors. This is particularly true between the Tech Center and downtown Denver, where numerous fiber optic loops compete for the businesses that move massive amounts of data.

However, large parts of our state have insufficient service and inadequate infrastructure. Rural schools often must pay prohibitive costs to gain Internet access. And, antiquated twisted-copper lines, that canapostrophet currently carry data-intensive information such as x-rays, hamper rural healthcare facilities from having desperately-needed electronic links to urban hospitals. Advances in technology may revalue copper pair infrastructure; but for now itapostrophes insufficient.

Where the infrastructure is even barely sufficient, enterprising individuals and organizations deliver remarkable results. In Sterling, Colorado, SEI has built a software company that employs more than 200 highly paid technicians. They owe their jobs in part to the fiber optic line that runs along I-76. They need a redundant line, however, to ensure continued service. Several years ago, for example, a gopher chewed through their single fiber optic connection and shut down the operation until repairs could be made.

In Craig, community activists, business leaders and county commissioners seized an opportunity to expand the townapostrophes telecommunications capabilities. When the Colorado State Patrol decided to consolidate its communications systems, the community moved quickly to assess its varied telecommunication needs and to ensure that the soon-to-be installed infrastructure met not only the Patrolapostrophes needs but those of the town as well. It is an excellent example of leveraging state government with local resources to meet the larger need of a community.

An enlightened educator in Center, former school superintendent Gary Kidd, invested heavily in computers for his schools and training for teachers. They built an interactive certified education program that targeted at-risk students in the San Luis Valley district. The program not only enables potential dropouts to get their diplomas, but also provides adult education after hours for the entire community.

There are literally hundreds of similar examples of communities improving their quality of life through telecommunications. However, while we celebrate these successes, we must also recognize that much remains to be done. Large parts of the state do not have access to national and global resources because they lack a telecommunications backbone, a pipeline linking them to the broader world of information.

Itapostrophes time for state government to take an active role in addressing this shortfall. We need to provide service to all parts of the state so that all Coloradans may benefit from the economic opportunities telecommunications offers. In addition, we have a constitutional commitment to ensuring a "thorough and uniform" education to every child in Colorado. We can meet this commitment far more easily and fairly through telecommunications access to rural school districts. This will open up the world to all our students.

So, from the stateapostrophes perspective, how do we capitalize on the unique capabilities of the new technologies to drive economic development, enhance education, improve access to quality healthcare, and deliver a wide range of government services far more quickly and cheaply ?

We need to devise and implement a strategy that respects the interests of the private sector while still meeting the broader needs of our citizens.

One strategy that will bridge the telecommunications gap in Colorado requires state government to be entrepreneurial in assuming a leadership role. We can aggregate our significant telecommunications buying power as an incentive to private sector providers. We can build creative partnerships with underserved Colorado communities, like the one created in Craig. And, we can act as a fair broker to pool enough demand and resources to provide incentives to the private sector. Not only will providers be able to tap into enlarged markets, but communities will see the gap between the haveapostrophes and have-notapostrophes narrow.

Two opportunities present themselves. Governor Romer has moved quietly and effectively to assess state agency use of technology. A study currently underway will tell us how state agencies can best use the new technologies and how to use them most cost-effectively. We can now quantify our buying power.

Secondly, the Colorado Department of Transportation will soon fund the development of a shared resources plan for utilizing of taxpayer-owned rights-of-way along our highways for telecommunications infrastructure. Since tax-payers own these rights we need to ensure that we are also the beneficiaries of their use. We can do so by adding their value to the package Colorado offers the private sector to build infrastructure state-wide.

Telecommunications is a powerful tool for economic change. It can help communities throughout the state manage growth, generate high quality jobs and enhance education, health care and government services.

The time has come for Colorado to join with local communities and private sector providers to devise a strategy for ensuring that all Coloradans have access to telecommunications and the world it opens for all of us.

 

Gail Schoettler is one of Coloradoapostrophes foremost leaders in the areas of education, growth management, and fiscal responsibility. Currently Lieutenant Governor of Colorado, Schoettler has also been State Treasurer, President of the Douglas County Board of Education, and a successful businesswoman. In each of these roles, she repeatedly demonstrated the ability to bring people together to solve tough problems. According to The Rocky Mountain News, "insiders in finance and education place Gail Schoettler among the stateapostrophes brightest elected officials."

Elected Lieutenant Governor in 1994, she has been a crucial part of Governor Roy Romerapostrophes team. In 1997, she served as co-chair of the successful "Summit of the Eight" and used the summit to help Colorado businesses gain national and international exposure. Gail Schoettler negotiated the clean-up agreements for toxic waste at Rocky Mountain Arsenal and Rocky Flats, and she is the driving force behind the Colorado School-to-Career Partnership, which links strong academics to studentsapostrophe career interests. She also serves as chairperson of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs.

From 1987 to 1994, Gail Schoettler served two terms as State Treasurer, where she established a national reputation for fiscal responsibility and wise money management. Despite turbulent economic conditions, she protected the stateapostrophes excellent financial ratings while managing Coloradoapostrophes $5.5 billion cash flow and $2.5 billion investment portfolio. Schoettler also started "The Great Colorado Payback", which returns millions of dollars in unclaimed funds to Coloradans, and served as a trustee of the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA), the stateapostrophes $14 billion pension fund. Prior to her election as Treasurer, she was Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Personnel, where she managed Coloradoapostrophes civil service system, with 27,000 employees and a $500 million payroll.

Gail Schoettler has a long history of leadership in the field of education. While her children were attending Colorado public schools, she helped start the Denver Childrenapostrophes Museum and served as president of its board for ten years. In 1979, she was elec