A Colorado for All Requires Broadband Investment
Wednesday, December 14, 2022
A Colorado for All Requires Broadband Investment
"To create a Colorado for all, equitable online access to educational opportunities and government services is imperative. To accelerate Colorado's economic recovery and to continue to position Colorado as a top state to live and work in, we must invest in broadband infrastructure."
—Governor Jared Polis (D-CO)
In 2012, Governor John Hickenlooper (D-CO) charged the Colorado Office of Information Technology (OIT) with overseeing and coordinating broadband activity across state agencies. In 2016, OIT created the Colorado Broadband Office. The office enables the development of a statewide digital communications infrastructure through public-private partnerships to meet the growing demand for broadband access in the key sectors of public safety, education, health care, transportation and for all Coloradans. The state legislature codified the broadband office in 2021.
On February 17, 2022, Governor Jared Polis (D-CO) directed the Colorado Broadband Office to develop a Broadband Strategic Plan to connect 99 percent of Colorado households to high-speed broadband by 2027. In June 2022, Governor Polis signed an executive order outlining directives on Accelerating Broadband Deployment in Colorado, including:
- Creating and soliciting ongoing feedback on a roadmap for how the state can meet the goal of providing 99% of Colorado households with access to high-speed broadband that reliably delivers 100 megabits per second download and 20 megabits per second upload, scalable to 100 megabits per second symmetrical speeds, or any more recent federally-recognized definition of high-speed broadband.
- Increasing the speed of project initiation, contracting, and implementation for statewide broadband deployment.
- Formalizing all grant processes to ensure a transparent process and timely review of applications.
- Developing a uniform electronic application, permitting, contract, and fee structure to facilitate non-government entities' access to the Colorado Department of Transportation's rights of way and fiber lease for the deployment of broadband.
Colorado's Digital Divide
Approximately 166,000 households in Colorado lack internet service because of a mix of access (56% of the gap) and adoption (44% of the gap) issues.
- 14% of locations are unserved or underserved. While rural areas see a higher proportion of unserved locations,
most unserved and underserved residents live in metropolitan centers.
- 38% of residents without at-home broadband reported cost as the main reason.
- 15% of households do not have a computer at home.
- Only 69% of Colorado residents agree they have the skills to effectively use a broadband connection
Colorado Broadband Roadmap
Recognizing both the mandate and the opportunity to connect every unserved and underserved location through funding from the American Rescue Plan Act and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the Colorado Broadband Roadmap includes strategies to reach four goals.
Goal One: Bolster economic opportunity by connecting 99% of residents, particularly those in rural communities, to high-speed internet by 2027.
- Prioritize fiber deployment and target funding in areas where a negative business case for investment for the unserved and underserved exist. Consider greenfield deployment to reduce the costs of investment and increase competition.
- Set a high-cost per location threshold, which balances funding the use of fiber and alternative technologies to expand coverage for harder to serve areas.
- Utilize location-level mapping and analytics to assess areas of critical need and to target areas that require subsidies.
Goal Two: By 2027, expand digital inclusion and adoption by 25%.
- Conduct a landscape analysis of existing digital literacy programs and develop strategies to address any gaps.
- Conduct digital navigator pilots within targeted populations, evaluate strategies that work, and leverage public-private partnerships to build skills and confidence in the use of technology.
- Lower costs through state programs and support partnerships that provide low-cost devices.
Goal Three: Enable Colorado to thrive by fostering and supporting a digital economy by 2027.
- Expand workforce development programs to prepare and support industry to address labor shortages that are barriers to deployment.
- Improve delivery of government services leveraging technology and facilitate a culture of innovation and efficiency among government agencies.
- Ensure investments in broadband leverage existing strategies and programs already in place to improve the digital economy.
Goal Four: Strengthen resilience across Colorado communities through broadband by 2027.
- Link the operations of infrastructure and public, private, and community broadband networks to encourage collaboration and ensure resiliency.
- Leverage open access deployment and ensure that connectivity to network infrastructure is available during emergencies.
Colorado Broadband Programs
The Broadband Deployment Board, established by the Colorado General Assembly in 2014, provides grants through the Broadband Fund to deploy broadband service in unserved areas of the state. For-profit entities are eligible to apply, as well as nonprofit telephone cooperatives or nonprofit rural electric associations that existed on May 10, 2014. Grants are reserved to areas outside of municipal boundaries or cities with less than 7,000 residents that lack access to broadband. Awardees must cover at least 25 percent of the total cost of the proposed project.
Colorado's Department of Local Affairs recognizes that local governments can play a role in assisting public institutions and private businesses, as well as local citizens, to gain access to reliable broadband service at affordable costs. Such locally initiated actions can be undertaken under local authority to enhance economic development, improve distance learning opportunities, promote inter-jurisdictional communication, and improve healthcare delivery to meet citizens’ requests for better access to the breadth of services available over broadband. The Department of Local Affairs earmarked $5 million in Energy Impact Assistance Fund monies each year starting in fiscal year 2019 to assist in such local government efforts, subject to certain conditions. These grants are directed by statute to communities that are economically or socially impacted by the development of energy and mineral resources. Grants are also awarded based on financial need, among other review criteria. Therefore, the majority of grant funding is directed to smaller and more rural communities where sufficient broadband service is lacking.
The Colorado Broadband Office works with communities, providers, cooperatives, anchor institutions, education systems, government offices, and healthcare facilities to develop projects that improve infrastructure, affordability, digital connectivity (e.g., devices and equipment) and access to high-speed internet. All grant applications for federal funds will be awarded through the Advance Colorado Broadband Grant Program.
On December 8, the U.S. Treasury approved Colorado's plan to use all of its Capital Projects Fund allocation for broadband infrastructure. Through the Advance Colorado Broadband Grant Program, the state will use $170.8 million from the Capital Projects Fund to connect 18,000 households and businesses—representing approximately 15 percent of locations still lacking high-speed internet access. The competitive grant program is designed to deploy broadband internet service to households, businesses, community anchor institutions, and agricultural operations that currently lack access to reliable broadband that can meet or exceed 25/3 Mbps. The focus will be on areas of the state with the lowest levels of internet service. Supported networks will provide internet service with speeds of 100/100 Mbps symmetrical. Each of the internet service providers funded by the program will participate in the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program—a $30 per month subsidy for qualifying households, $75/month for households on Tribal lands.
In response to Treasury's approval, Gov. Polis said, “Affordable and accessible broadband connects Coloradans and strengthens our economy, and we are grateful for the federal government’s partnership on this important work.”
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.
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