Colorado broadband grant from infrastructure act, coronavirus ARPA money

Colorado officials expect to connect 18,000 homes, businesses, and farms to high-speed internet in coming years through a $171 million grant program from the federal government.

That represents about 15% of locations that currently lack high-speed internet in the state, according to officials. Gov. Jared Polis pledged in October to connect 99% of households to broadband internet within five years.

The money comes from the $10 billion coronavirus capital projects fund, which was included in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that passed in March 2021. This money needs to be allocated by 2026, according to the White House.

“Reliable access to broadband is a key part of our rural economic agenda in our state,” Polis said. “… We know that we need connectivity in every part of our state to be able to make sure that residents across our state can enjoy the economic opportunity, health care, and education that rely on high-speed connectivity.”

A map from the Colorado Broadband Office shows much of the Front Range has access to highspeed internet, but pockets of the western slope and mountain communities directly west of Boulder lack it. Coloradans who live along the southernmost counties in particular are least likely to have reliable home internet access, according to the state. State officials estimate about 166,000 households lack internet because of accessibility, affordability, or other reasons.

Colorado will use the money for the Advance Colorado Broadband competitive grant program. The program aims to deliver 100 megabits-per-second internet to households and businesses and prioritizes parts of the state with the lowest levels of internet service. Participating internet service providers will need to also participate in the federal affordable connectivity program, a $30-per-month internet subsidy for low-income families.

This salvo also represents just an opening shot at expanding broadband access in the state. Soon after its announcement, the Polis administration announced another $5 million grant to prepare for applying for a chunk of the $42 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program. That program passed as part of the bipartisan infrastructure act that passed last fall.

Polis also noted that there are additional pots of money, including from the state budget, to help reach the 99% goal. Overall, the state expects to receive between $400 million and $1 billion over the next few years for broadband efforts. That includes $34 million for three rural broadband projects, $22 million for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and $43 million for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.

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