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Federal Money at Hand, Colorado Poised to Hear from ISPs

Federal approval of the state’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program smooths the way for the grant application process to open to Internet service providers, expected in late summer.

An aerial view of Colorado's capitol dome with the Denver skyline in the background.
Colorado can begin dispersing more than $800 million in federal grant funding to broadband infrastructure developers, a significant step in advancing high-speed Internet infrastructure in some of state’s most hard-to-reach locations.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has formally approved the state’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program, a process opening up $826.5 million of federal infrastructure funding to build out Colorado’s high-speed Internet capacity.

“This is a very exciting milestone for the Colorado high-speed initiative, a huge leap forward to connecting Coloradans to affordable, reliable, high-speed Internet,” Gov. Jared Polis said June 11 during a press event.

The grant application process will open to Internet service providers in late August or early September, said Brandy Reitter, executive director of the Colorado Broadband Office.

“This news initiates the process. So, we should be able to meet those deliverables pretty well over the next two or three months,” Reitter said.

Today, about 93 percent of Coloradans are connected to the Internet, Reitter told Government Technology during an April interview. The state has a goal to connect 99 percent of households in the next five years.

Colorado, like other Western states, includes large swaths of rural mountain landscape that have made broadband deployment both difficult and costly. Funding from programs like BEAD, as well as the COVID-19 relief funding in the form of the American Rescue Plan, have provided government-led incentives to bring infrastructure into hard-to-reach places.

Colorado is among the latest states to have its BEAD plans finalized by federal officials, who were eager to highlight the transformative effect of the 2021 bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, one of President Joe Biden’s signature pieces of legislation.

“It means we’re this much closer to putting shovels in the ground, creating good quality jobs, and getting our communities connected,” Natalie Quillian, White House deputy chief of staff, said June 11 of the Colorado BEAD plan approval. “We know that Internet is no longer a luxury. It is an absolute necessity.”

More than $7 billion in federal infrastructure funding is headed to Colorado, including $3.7 billion in transportation funding, and nearly $700 million for improving water quality, Quillian said.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.