Aug 17 2023

Colorado Looks to Advance Broadband Efforts with New Grants

The state’s broadband office recently opened applications for its Capital Projects Fund, part of a larger program.

The Colorado Broadband Office recently applications for its Capital Projects Fund, part of its Advance Colorado Broadband Grant program. The CPF, backed by the state of Colorado, has $162 million to allocate to entities working on broadband infrastructure projects that deliver high-speed internet to homes and businesses in underserved communities. The CPF focuses specifically on infrastructure, awarding money only to projects that aim to improve IT infrastructure.

To be eligible, entities must fit the following criteria outlined by the Colorado Broadband Office: “Households, businesses, educational institutions, healthcare facilities, community anchor institutions, recreational destinations, and agricultural operations without deployed internet access services providing reliable, wireline transmission speeds of at least 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload.” CPF awardees must also participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program, meaning that applicants must carry a low-cost internet plan that is to the standards of the ACP and include that plan in the application.

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Colorado was also awarded over $826 million by the Biden administration in funding from the Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment program, which aims to expand access to high-speed internet across the country.

The programs are the latest in Colorado’s efforts to modernize, as state officials want Colorado to become “the smartest of smart cities.” Grant funding from both the CPF and BEAD programs could spur major progress on closing the digital divide in the state and reaching the goals identified in Governor Jared Polis’s 2022 executive order on accelerating broadband deployment.

“It’s not just a rural problem but an urban one as well,” says Colorado Broadband Office Executive Director Brandy Reitter. “We’re going to provide money to our public and private sector partners to build broadband facilities where there are gaps in our state. That’s in every county in Colorado.” 

Colorado Aims to Upgrade Outdated Infrastructure

Reitter says that the federal government’s investment in Colorado will fast-track the state’s efforts to expand high-speed internet access. In the past, it was considered too costly for private organizations to invest in high-speed internet, which could cost thousands of dollars. The CPF program in particular helps subsidize the cost of investing in new infrastructure in high-cost areas. 

“Some of the infrastructure is really old, and the topography of the state is very expensive. There are places that aren’t really conducive to broadband infrastructure. Another challenge is line-of-sight wireless. It’s a whole host of issues,” she says. “These funds will really help.”

The projects the state is looking at for the CPF are fiber-preferred programs with investments in last-mile connectivity. Reitter says that the state wants to invest in networks that are built to last, and that applicants must demonstrate that their projects are solving problems.

DISCOVER: How other state and local governments continue to prioritize broadband expansion.

BEAD Funding to Go Toward Improving Digital Equity

It’s not just physical infrastructure that’s causing a digital divide. There’s a digital equity side to this, Reitter says, in which people in low-income areas have physical access to the internet but can’t afford to pay for it. While CPF money will only go toward infrastructure, funds from the BEAD program could help with access. The state could subsidize low-cost devices that can connect to the internet, such as desktops, laptops and tablets.

“Affordability is one of the biggest barriers to internet adoption,” Reitter says. “That and a lack of infrastructure are our two top challenges in Colorado.”

Digital literacy is another piece of digital equity, and Reitter says that BEAD money could go toward initiatives that help constituents identify resources to access the internet. Reitter notes that there already are state programs in Colorado that fund digital navigators who help people in the community use the internet.

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