States must wait a few more weeks to see if they’ll receive any remaining broadband stimulus funds before the Sept. 30 deadline, but Colorado has just hit a jackpot, winning a $100 million federal grant to create an affordable broadband network and expand an intergovernmental agency to lead the statewide project.

With an additional $34.7 million in matching contributions, the state’s Centennial Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) seeks to offer affordable middle-mile broadband service across the state, mainly targeting rural areas and underserved school districts.

As a part of Centennial BOCES, the intergovernmental Educational Access Gateway Learning Environment Network (Eagle-Net) has been providing Internet services on a regional level since the mid-1990s. But the latest grant will help the agency expand to serve the entire state, according to Denise Atkinson-Shorey, Eagle-Net’s CIO.

“We need to make our dollars go further and strategically build out our network,” she said. “We have a diverse set of partners that have expertise in many areas who come together to work in a collaborative way.”

The project will potentially serve Colorado’s 178 K-12 school districts, 15 community colleges, 26 libraries and three institutions of higher education. With IBM’s support, Eagle-Net also plans to expand the network to more than 200 community anchor institutions.

Not bad for a state that ranks 42nd in broadband connectivity.

Collaboration Stretches Dollars

Colorado’s award was just one of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s 35 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act investments announced Monday, Sept 13., which together represent part of a $7 billion nationwide investment in expanding broadband access.

The Commerce Department’s latest broadband investments total $482.4 million out of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) provides grants to support the deployment and adoption of broadband infrastructure and link key anchor institutions.

In Connecticut, the Department of Information Technology won a $93.9 million grant — with an additional $23.5 in matching contributions — to deploy more than 5,500 miles of fiber to expand existing broadband infrastructure and improve public safety and educational services in the state.

New York City won $13.9 million — with an additional $7.2 million match — to improve public computer centers in high-poverty areas.

“[Monday’s] awards complement the $22 million award New York City received for the NYC Connected Learning initiative, which will help serve more than 18,000 low-income sixth-grade students and 40,000 public school household members by providing free computers, discounted broadband service, high-quality digital educational resources, and digital literacy training to boost educational outcomes over three academic years,” said Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in a statement. “Taken together, this more than $40 million in federal broadband funding will greatly expand New York City’s existing efforts to foster greater digital inclusion citywide.”

By the end of the month, the NTIA plans to make all of awards, which will help states close the digital divide, boost economic growth and create jobs by connecting millions of homes, business and institutions to high-speed Internet.

“In a globalized 21st-century economy, when you don’t have regular access to high-speed Internet, you don’t have access to all the educational, business and employment opportunities it provides,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said in a release. “These critical Recovery Act investments will create jobs and lay the groundwork for long-term sustainable economic growth in communities across America.”

So far, the NTIA has announced 216 BTOP grants that benefit communities across the nation with projects that connect key anchor institutions, such as schools, libraries and hospitals, according to Lawrence E. Strickling, assistant secretary for communications and information and NTIA administrator.

Investments that also spur Internet usage and adoption, Strickling added, will help the agency get “the most bang for every grant dollar.”

As Colorado officials examined other states with successful broadband networks, Atkinson-Shorey said they noticed a common trend of robust public-private partnerships. With those findings, Eagle-Net began to push for more statewide collaboration, which the latest award will help support.

“We studied successful models and that’s what we see is consistent,” Atkinson-Shorey said. “Now, rather than compete, rather than running two sets of fiber in the same areas, we’re trying to work together and leverage existing resources.”

For the entire list of grants announced this week by the U.S. Department of Commerce, click here.

Russell Nichols  |  Staff Writer