Federal partnership will grow broadband coverage over next decade in Routt County | SteamboatToday.com

Federal partnership will grow broadband coverage over next decade in Routt County

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Yampa Valley Electric Association and its Luminate Fiber subsidiary announced Monday the two entities are partnering with the Federal Communications Commission to expand rural broadband access in Northwest Colorado over the next decade.

The partnership is part of the federal government’s push to expand access through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, which awarded more than $9 billion in grants to improve access across the country.

“Across our territory, it has been increasingly clear that broadband services are not an option at this time, but a necessity for community health and well being, especially in our coal impacted communities,” Steve Johnson, CEO of Yampa Valley Electric Association, said in a statement.

Johnson said expanding broadband is the most important investment communities can make in economic development, student achievement, emergency services and health care. Much of the expansion of broadband is funded through grants at various levels of government.

“We have been working diligently to pursue federal partnerships to bring broadband to Northwest Colorado,” said Meagan Moore-Kemp, energy solutions manager for the electric cooperative. “We’re really trying to close the gap on something our communities have been saying they need for decades, which is broadband.”

The need for broadband has been identified for years in various plans both in Routt and Moffat counties, Moore-Kemp said, and it is part of the company’s mission.

It is still early in the partnership with the FCC, and the entities are working to plan out the 10-year partnership.

In October, Luminate was the recipient of a $6 million ReConnect grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Federal grants are so important the state has a full-time director of federal broadband engagement specifically focused on ensuring Colorado gets its fair share of funding, Moore-Kemp added.

The electric association also received a $2.4 million dollar grant from the state’s broadband fund, which serves as the main source of funding at the state level for these projects.

Luminate broadband allows for “the Cadillac of internet,” she said, with speeds exceeding the capabilities of current DSL or modem-style internet.

Moore-Kemp said broadband will play a large role in economic development going forward, especially in communities where there is uncertainty about the energy industry and as more people transition to working remotely.

“Broadband is really going to be one of those things that helps stem the tides of coming economic challenges,” Moore-Kemp said.

Broadband has also become essential for education and health care delivery, and that will only increase in the future, she added.

Across Colorado, about 96% of households have access to broadband as of April 2020, compared to just 87% when looking at just rural communities in the state, according to the Colorado Broadband Office.

Installing broadband in Northwest Colorado can be particularly challenging due to the rugged and remote terrain, she said. Still, the association is committed to expanding coverage through its 7,000-square-mile electric service territory, which includes most of Routt and Moffat counties.

“Yampa Valley Electric Association is a cooperative that serves our communities, so that is our mission,” Moore-Kemp said. “It is clear to us that in order to serve our communities that (the) build out of broadband is one of the most important investments we can make.”

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