Wednesday, May 1, 2013

City: Cox is off broadband committee

Mayor: Survey is irresponsible

Express Staff Writer

    Following a controversial opinion survey of Wood River Valley residents conducted in April by Cox Communications, a cable and Internet provider in the valley, Ketchum has ejected Cox’s representative from the city’s broadband advisory committee.
    “It’s unfortunate they would remove a member of the volunteer committee simply because as a company, we wanted to know more about the public’s opinion,” said Guy Cherp, vice president of operations for Cox in the valley and also the company’s representative on the committee, in a news release from Cox issued on April 24.
    According to a news release issued by the city the same day, the committee aims to identify the city’s high-speed Internet needs and “potentially promote” future broadband infrastructure development for the city, “in conjunction with telecommunications providers.” The committee was established in November 2012.
    Longtime valley resident Sarah Michael, who was a Blaine County Commissioner from 2001-08, reported concerns about the survey to the Idaho Mountain Express in late April.
    “The questions were so outrageous, I didn’t want to continue with the survey,” she said. “I got offended. They were inappropriate and misleading.”
    Michael said that, in essence, one question asked: Would you support Ketchum’s broadband initiative if you knew the city would cut police, fire and other essential services to pay for it?
    “Who’s going to answer yes to that?” she said.
    Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall said he and city staff members received several calls stating concerns about the survey.
    “As the mayor, I can’t stand by and let somebody imply that I’m going to compromise the Police Department and the Fire Department by taking money away from them and putting it toward a broadband initiative,” Hall said. “That’s insane. I would never do that. I think the survey was trying to create fear.”
    Cox declined to release the survey questions to the newspaper. However, the Cox news release states that the company “routinely” conducts opinion research to ensure that the company is meeting its customers’ needs.
    “As part of that research, we wanted to know what residents thought about the possibility of the city spending taxpayer money to implement broadband Internet,” states Cherp in the release.
    The city news release states that the city has “no current plans” to build a broadband network utilizing public funding.
    “Cox is a very valuable member of our community,” Hall said. “But to imply that the city is willing to compromise the health and safety of its citizens by funding a broadband initiative is false and irresponsible.”
    Hall said he considers Cox’s “unilateral action” in deciding to conduct the survey a “breach of trust,” but that the city would welcome a new representative of the company to the committee.
    “Cox is interested in continuing to participate, but has not heard anything from the city to that effect,” Cherp said in response.

Brennan Rego:

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