Connecting rural Colorado with the push for 100% broadband

Connecting rural Colorado with the push for 100% broadband




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“Universal service” has been a cornerstone of American communications policy since the Communications Act of 1934. It’s the principle that all people, whether they’re in the middle of a city or on a ranch 20 miles off the interstate, should have access to efficient, fairly priced communications services.

It was one of the ideas driving Colorado’s beleaguered, $100.6 million EAGLE-Net program that tried — and failed — to bring high-speed internet to every school district in the state.

When it comes to being able to connect to high-speed internet in rural Colorado, “universal service” is still an aspiration, not a reality.

“We get the internet to bring up my email and stuff like that. It takes forever,” Denise Beanland said of the quality of her home internet connection this month. “I can’t upload pictures. You can’t really watch a movie without it stopping several times. It’s just very, very slow.”

Beanland, 64, lives about a quarter mile outside Dove Creek, a town of fewer than 750 people a few miles from the Utah border in the southwest part of the state. the town manager, describes high-speed internet service in the Western Slope community as “pretty much nonexistent.”

RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

Allen Scott, with Blue Lightning, works on a hole to join fiber optic cable, for high speed internet, on Dec. 19, 2019 in Wiggins.

Thousands of unserved households

For now, most of the homes in Dove Creek and surrounding Dolores County are a part of the 13% of rural households in Colorado state officials consider unserved by broadband internet.  As defined by the Federal Communications Commission, broadband is internet service that can deliver download speeds of at least 25 mbps and upload speeds of at least 3 mbps.

“Broadband has become an essential service, just as electricity used to be a century ago,” Eun-A Park, an associate professor at Western Colorado University in Gunnison who studies telecommunications policy, wrote in an email to The Denver Post.

High-speed internet has become a cornerstone of modern business, education and health care, Park said.

“Rural areas need these services too, in fact, more than cities do, since the physical infrastructure (for example, health clinics or high-quality schools) is not available in rural areas,” she wrote.

With upward of 600,000 rural households in the state, an 87% service rate means somewhere in the range of 80,000 to 90,000 households are living with subpar internet, according to state officials’ estimates.

It’s a significant step up from a few years ago. In May 2017, just 73% of rural households had broadband, according to state figures. Colorado has a long way to go to reach its next goal: 92% rural access by June 2020.

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