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Colorado announces new broadband grant program

At the same time that the Colorado Broadband Deployment Board is trying to get itself back to normal in reviewing and awarding its bi-annual grants, the Colorado Broadband Office has launched an entirely new one.

That one-time grant program, known as Advance Colorado Broadband, is to deploy more than $500 million in grants for specific projects aimed at expanding internet access, particularly in underserved areas of the state.

The money primarily is coming from the federal American Rescue Plan and the Infrastructure Investment Jobs Act, both laws pushed by President Joe Biden and approved by Congress last year.

“The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted our need to be able to work, learn and access critical services virtually,” said Brandy Reitter, executive director of the governor’s broadband office. “High-speed internet is crucial to advancing Colorado’s technological and economic growth.”

Internet providers and local communities that want to apply need to draft a letter of intent describing specific proposals to expand internet access in their areas and submit it to the broadband office by July 18.

Reitter said the office will prioritize community-driven projects where stakeholders work jointly to expand access or to boost internet speeds.

State broadband officials said they are hopeful the additional money will help reach a goal set by Gov. Jared Polis to get the state to 99% connected by 2027.

About $171 million of the money stems from the Rescue Plan approved by Congress to help states recover from the pandemic. Up to $100 million is to be used to expand middle-mile fiber optic lines, and for middle-mile infrastructure improvements.

Additional funding also is expected to be available in 2024 through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program, which has about $42 billion to dole out to expand high-speed internet across the nation.

Earlier this year, Mesa County announced plans to use some of the money it received directly from the rescue plan to help expand middle-mile lines in the county. In April, the U.S. Department of Commerce gave six Western Slope counties more than $800,000 for additional internet projects.

Meanwhile, the state’s broadband deployment board currently is reviewing applications submitted for its winter 2022 grant cycle, and expects to award those grants in the fall.

One of them has been filed by the Delta-Montrose Electric Association on behalf of its Elevate internet provider service.

The power cooperative, which has been expanding internet access in Delta and Montrose counties for several years now, is seeking a $2.5 million grant to expand its services to the East Mesa area in Montrose County.

The board also announced delayed application dates for its summer 2022 grant cycle, which won’t be due until October. Gjsentinel

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