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Connecting rural areas to the grid

The Rural Broadband Push to Close Colorado’s Digital Divide

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Colorado’s rural residents face a digital divide. When houses and buildings are widely scattered, so is the infrastructure designed to deliver internet data. The equipment needed for high-speed internet simply doesn’t exist in many rural areas.

Rural residents are offered slower, more expensive internet options than their urban counterparts.

Randy Reed noticed a difference when he found a new home near Bailey, a small community in Park County. The few internet service packages available to Randy in Bailey were slower and more expensive than the options in Denver. “The fastest is about 20 Mbps,” Reed said.

Internet speeds are measured in megabits per second (mbps). The Federal Communications Commission explains that moderate internet activities, such as watching streaming videos or playing games online, require speeds of 12 to 25 mbps. Households or businesses with multiple computers need more mbps to deliver video conferencing or fast downloads of applications.

Internet service at 25 Mpbs is considered high-speed for a typical household, delivering smooth video and loading web pages quickly on multiple computers.

“When we’re talking about broadband in rural areas, we have to talk about infrastructure. It’s the same thing for me as water pipes being past their life expectancies,” said Mallory Pillard, director of the Carnegie Public Library in Trinidad.

Pillard said residents from Trinidad and surrounding Las Animas County visit the library regularly to take advantage of internet access.

Colorado’s rural residents face a digital divide. When houses and buildings are widely scattered, so is the infrastructure designed to deliver internet data. The equipment needed for high-speed internet simply doesn’t exist in many rural areas.
Rural residents are offered slower, more expensive internet options than their urban counterparts.
Randy Reed noticed a difference when he found a new home near Bailey, a small community in Park County. The few internet service packages available to Randy in Bailey were slower and more expensive than the options in Denver. “The fastest is about 20 Mbps,” Reed said.
Internet speeds are measured in megabits per second (mbps). The Federal Communications Commission explains that moderate internet activities, such as watching streaming videos or playing games online, require speeds of 12 to 25 mbps. Households or businesses with multiple computers need more mbps to deliver video conferencing or fast downloads of applications.
Internet service at 25 Mpbs is considered high-speed for a typical household, delivering smooth video and loading web pages quickly on multiple computers.
“When we’re talking about broadband in rural areas, we have to talk about infrastructure. It’s the same thing for me as water pipes being past their life expectancies,” said Mallory Pillard, director of the Carnegie Public Library in Trinidad.
Pillard said residents from Trinidad and surrounding Las Animas County visit the library regularly to take advantage of internet access.
“Streaming is a big issue almost as soon as you get out of town,” said Pillard. She explained watching a single television episode on Netflix would be a challenge on a limited rural data plan.
In Colorado, the difference in internet speed availability between metropolitan and rural speeds is stark. In Front Range counties like Denver, Arapahoe, and Douglas, over 95% of residents can choose to subscribe to internet providers offering at least 25 mbps.
In Crowley County, only 1.8% of residents are offered similar internet speeds.
Even when high-speed internet access is available, the service costs more for rural subscribers.
In metro areas of Colorado, a basic internet package from a major provider like CenturyLink or Xfinity averages around $45 per month, with speeds up to 60 Mpbs.
Major services like CenturyLink don’t reach the eastern plains town of Kit Carson in Cheyenne County. Kit Carson residents can choose from a few internet providers, including Eastern Slope Rural Telephone Association.
Eastern Slope’s service area stretches from the town of Bennett in Adams County about 35 miles east of Denver, to Eads in Kiowa County east of Pueblo. In 2017, Eastern Slope undertook a project to expand fiber access to residents of towns like Bennett. They offer eastern Colorado residents plans starting around $40 monthly – but at speeds of only 4 Mpbs.
To get speeds of 12 Mbps, the threshold for medium service set by the FCC, Kit Carson residents would need to pay at least $90 per month. Speeds up to 60 Mpbs, like those available to urban Colorado internet users, simply aren’t available.
High-speed internet depends on an infrastructure of cables reaching each building that needs internet service. Almost every home and business is connected by copper telephone cables, which can provide internet access at slower dial-up speeds in a service called Digital Subscriber Line, or DSL.
Faster internet speeds can be delivered over more modern cables, like fiber optics – but the installation of new cables can be costly.
Internet service companies prioritize installing new cables where they anticipate customers will subscribe t…
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The Rural Broadband Push to Close Colorado's Digital Divide
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