Colorado awarded $826.5 million to get everyone in the state decent broadband
This story was originally published by The Colorado Sun at 3:47 AM on June 27, 2023.
Ayearlong effort by the Colorado Broadband Office to analyze which households in the state have adequate internet and which don’t paid off big time Monday when the the National Telecommunications and Information Administration awarded Colorado $826.5 million to build better broadband infrastructure.
The amount, said Brandy Reitter, executive director of the state Broadband Office, was much larger than she had anticipated.
“I’ve given people estimates over the last 12 months that it could be $400 million to $700 million. But we got $826 million,” she said. “It was a big swing but we definitely knocked it out of the park.”
The funding comes from the infrastructure bill that Congress passed in 2021. More specifically, the bill set aside $42.5 billion for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program known as BEAD. While every state would get $100 million to improve their broadband access, the remaining money was up for grabs based on the unserved or underserved communities within a state. Underserved households are those with internet service below 100 megabits per second down and 20 mbps up, which is much faster than the old federal definition of 25 mbps down and 3 up.
But states had to put a plan together and apply.
Reitter’s team spent countless hours correcting the national broadband maps for Colorado that often showed adequate service even if speeds were much slower than advertised, or service too expensive. Residents could also submit corrections for their homes. Between the state and public input, the majority of the 15,000 challenges made were accepted by federal officials.
A joint news release Monday from Colorado’s two U.S. senators and Gov. Jared Polis highlighted the work that’s been done so far. But, Polis said, there’s still room for improvement.
“Here in Colorado, we continue to make bold progress towards our goal of connecting 99% of Colorado households to affordable, high-speed broadband by 2027 and we welcome the needed federal support to help connect more Coloradans,” he said in a statement.
It has been tough for the state to get to 99% even with past federal funding. Private companies have received federal money to build out the internet lines, but like any business, they focused on rural communities with customers. Areas where households are more spread apart became too costly to build out service.
With the new funding plus other funds from other federal sources as well as the state, Reitter believes it just may be enough to finally get Colorado up to speed.
“Our numbers are better than they were (last year), and I think it has to do with our current awards,” she said. “We’re looking at 10% of Coloradans that do not have adequate access to the internet, which represents 190,000 households.”
As for the higher-than-expected amount, Reitter didn’t know why but theorized that it probably had to do with the cost of building internet to rural Colorado communities, which means through rocks and mountains. She doesn’t know for sure yet how Colorado was judged.
“It was probably a host of reasons, but my gut would tell me it’s the high cost that had a lot to do with it as well,” she said.
The NTIA awarded19 states more than $1 billion each for broadband infrastructure with Texas nabbing the highest amount at $3.3 billion. Colorado was near the middle, landing at 22nd highest amount. All the states must put their plans together on how they will use their share.
Colorado expects to announce more details July 6. Likely, the Broadband Office will provide grants to communities and work with private internet providers to match funds and build out service. She expects to have the five-year plan made public by August.
“Funds will go to deployment (for) physical infrastructure, and we’re working to support ISPs, local governments, tribal governments (and) cooperatives,” she said. “We’re looking to support community anchor institutions and their broadband plans, the digital equality side of things, that’s still a huge focus for us. We do have a separate funding bucket, which is the state’s Digital Equity Act, so we’ll be dispersing those monies to sub grantees. But anywhere that we can supplement those efforts and make our dollars go further, we will.”