Colorado pledges 99% broadband connectivity by 2027

LOVELAND, CO -- Colorado secured a whopping $826 million in funding from the federal Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program, which according to state lawmakers will help connect over 99% of Coloradan homes by the start of 2027.

Brandy Reitter, the executive director of the Colorado broadband office, hailed the BEAD allocation as a major milestone with far-reaching implications for the state.

"This $826 million of broadband investment is a big deal," said Reitter at an event in Loveland this week. The collaboration of federal agencies, namely the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), along with Colorado’s local stakeholders, served as a model for “how work gets done,” she added.

Gov. Jared Polis at the event promised the BEAD funding will lead to connecting more than 99% of Colorado homes with broadband in the next three and a half years.

“And I would say that this federal investment is what makes that possible,” Polis added. “We know we need to do better with regard to connectivity and we will. It's about economic vibrancy. It's about quality of life. It's about livability. It's about safety.”

As of now there are around 190,000 Colorado homes and businesses that have “very limited access, little access or no access at all to internet,” Polis noted, many of which are in rural communities.

Colorado Senator Michael Bennet said that prior federal broadband investments essentially turned into subsidies for telecommunication companies, where they would deploy funding “as part of their service plan, which somehow always left rural America out, always left rural Colorado out.”

“Those places in our country are the most expensive places to build, and therefore the large telecom companies never got to it,” the senator added.

Colorado will use its BEAD investment more effectively, Bennet said, by allowing eligible municipalities, tribes, citizens and organizations to apply for funding and “actually do the deployment, the work, with the state's direction.”

“Another thing that the big telecom companies never did was they would deliver these speeds to rural Colorado that you couldn't run a small business on, that students couldn't do their homework on and that's in the rearview mirror as a result of this bill as well,” added Bennet.

When asked how Colorado plans to overcome a statewide (and nationwide) fiber workforce shortage, Bennet said the BEAD funding is going to help dramatically.

“When you look at the kind of money that's being invested here, $42 billion, is a record investment on behalf of the American people…. And that amount of money over the period of time that it’s going to be deployed, is going to give predictability to our economy,” he stated.

Most notably, Bennet said the investment into broadband infrastructure will give young Coloradans the opportunity to be gainfully employed in a well-paying industry. And because broadband buildouts and maintenance are local operations, they won’t have to “go somewhere else to find that high paying job.”

“I believe for our state and for the country, that we are at a point in American history when we should be saying that no kid that graduated from high school without the skills to earn a living wage, not just the skills for a minimum wage,” Bennet said.

“Having broadband access across the United States is going to be a huge piece to making that a reality as well, which is going to mean that people living in underserved communities who don't have access to those high paying jobs for the first time in the 21st century now will have access to those jobs.”

On top of the BEAD investment Colorado was awarded, the state scored $170 million from the federal Capital Projects Fund and an additional $2.7 million from the NTIA's middle mile program. Colorado also received $66 million for the Southern Ute tribe and the mountain Ute tribes to connect homes, households and businesses on their tribal lands.

Over the past couple of years Colorado has received over $1.3 billion to help expand internet across the state.