Detailed planning, available funding and regional cooperation have made Colorado a leader when it comes to boosting broadband access in underserved areas, according to a report Thursday from the Pew Charitable Trusts.
“There are a number of ways that Colorado is leading on this issue,” said Kathryn de Wit, manager of the broadband initiative at The Pew Charitable Trusts, in an email. “Since 2016, the state’s Broadband Fund has awarded nearly $20 million to 29 projects in rural areas, bringing broadband access to 17,000 households.”
De Wit said the state’s advantage goes beyond providing funds. The Colorado Broadband Office coordinates across multiple agencies, including the Department of Local Affairs, the Department of Regulatory Agencies, and the Colorado Department of Transportation, resulting in a “more organized, cohesive approach to deployment.”
Colorado funds two regional broadband coordinators to provide technical assistance to regional councils and communities. They help build political support from local leaders to tackle the challenges that come with boosting broadband.
“I would tell you that the best practice that we did was we had everybody do a plan, and then we made them follow the plan,” Greg Winkler, a broadband coordinator with DOLA, told Pew.
About 21 counties or regions have completed broadband plans in the state, and some are starting to install their own fiber networks. Typically, they do so when private providers aren’t making upgrades to the network or are failing to connect more remote customers.
“Notably, the state also funds both middle-mile and last-mile connections, which supports the infrastructure required to bring broadband to people without access. This is the kind of investment that could yield long-term results,” de Wit predicts.
The last-mile connects broadband customers to the fiber network, while the middle mile provides a connection to the fiber backbone.
On the downside, a Colorado law limits the ability of local governments to own and operate their own broadband networks unless voters opt-out through a referendum. DOLA can help fund middle-mile infrastructure without an opt-out, but only if it is used for governmental purposes.
Pew examined all 50 states and then interviewed more than 300 people in California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin to come up with a list of best practices.
The Federal Communications Commission defines reliable high-speed internet as having minimum download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of at least 3 Mbps.
About 13% of households in the state don’t meet that requirement, which works out to about 80,000 to 90,000 households living with subpar internet, according to state estimates.
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