The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced this week it is awarding $6.3 million to expand broadband internet access in Dolores, San Miguel and Montezuma counties.
The grant is a part of the USDA’s ReConnect Program, which aims to expand broadband infrastructure and internet access throughout rural America. According to the agency, the grant will be used to expand high-speed broadband to more than 1,600 people living in the three counties.
Both of Colorado’s U.S. senators hailed the announcement, saying that expanding internet access is more important than ever, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has forced many people working in various industries to work from home via the internet. It also has drastically changed school operations throughout Colorado and across the country, with many students attending school partially or fully online.
“During the pandemic, Coloradans have come to rely on broadband more than ever to work, learn and connect remotely,” said Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., in a news release. “Yet many of our rural areas still lack access to quality broadband because of the high cost of deployment in areas like Southwest Colorado.”
Bennet sits on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee. The committee oversees legislation related to rural development.
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., also applauded the grant in a news release. He sits on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which oversees legislation relating to the internet.
“Southwest Colorado has some of the most challenging terrain in the nation, as the San Juan peaks are a photographer’s dream but a fiber builder’s nightmare,” Gardner said. “I’m excited that Emery (Telcom) will have the opportunity to expand service in Southwest Colorado, and I will continue to fight to connect every corner of this state to high-speed broadband.”
The funding will be provided to Emery, a Utah-based telecommunications company, for use in expanding internet access in Southwest Colorado.
In addition to connecting residents and households to broadband, the USDA said the broadband infrastructure expansion will connect 91 farms, 52 businesses, three fire stations and two post offices throughout the area.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that as of 2018, 68.4% of Montezuma County’s households, comprising over 26,000 residents, had a broadband internet subscription. In San Miguel County, that percentage estimate was 80.6% of the county’s more-than 8,000 residents. In Dolores County, with its population of just over 2,000, the estimated percentage of broadband-subscribed households was 64.7%.
John Purcell is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a student at American University in Washington, D.C.