Stimulus grant brings broadband to rural Colorado

As high-speed broadband service has increasingly become a key utility in America, residents in many of Colorado’s rural communities are finding that they simply don’t have access to speeds needed to download music or movies–or simply research in a timely fashion. But the stimulus package may help some communities change that.

Today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that Peetz, Colo. will receive $1.5 million in funding for a broadband infrastructure project.

The project will make broadband and wireless service available to as many as 590 locations in a 552-square miles service area that covers northern Colorado and southwestern Nebraska.

(Flickr, cc; dalbera)

(Flickr, cc; dalbera)The Peetz Cooperative Telephone Co. plans to upgrade its current carrier system to allow the company to deliver high-speed DSL Internet to 96 percent of homes in its area. Wireless equipment will be installed to cover the 4 percent of homes unreachable by DSL.

It’s one of the first of $2.5 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grants that are designed to help bring broadband services to rural un-served and underserved communities.

Broadband is expected to help rural residents overcome the distance and technology barriers they face. The hope is that high-speed Internet will expand connectivity between  rural educational institutions, businesses, and health care facilities and their counterparts in other communities.

Colorado Senator Michael Bennet on the grant:

“Expanding access to broadband will connect small businesses with new markets, workers with new skills, and students with new opportunities to learn. In the 21st century, when broadband has almost become a prerequisite for economic growth, we need to make sure our recovery doesn’t leave anyone behind.”

Rep. Betsy Markey, Colorado’s Fourth District Democrat, on the grant:

“This is great news for Northern and Eastern Colorado. While many rural communities enjoy state-of-the-art telecommunications, studies show that in general, rural areas tend to lag behind bigger cities in broadband deployment. This grant funding will help close that digital divide, and will give a big boost to economic development efforts in Colorado’s rural communities.”

Colorado could see even more broadband funding coming its way. In September, a consortium composed of Colorado school districts, libraries, educational cooperatives and other organizations submitted a much larger grant proposal for $178.5 million in broadband funding.

Such funding would allow rural schools to obtain broadband at a much lower cost. Better broadband service would allow rural high school students some of the benefits accorded to urban high school students, like the ability to simultaneously earn an associate degree by taking community college classes—online.

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Katie Redding

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