KEYSTONE, Colorado, May 24, 2022 – The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for Coloradans to get better broadband, and the reactions people have felt following their bad experiences with broadband motivated Sen. Michael BenetD-Colo., to craft legislation that ultimately led to the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Legislation.
Speaking at the Mountain Connect conference here, Bennet traced the story of how grassroots reactions to low throughput issues translated into legislation.
“Wherever I went in the state, whether rural, suburban, or urban, broadband would come back again and again,” Bennett recounted. “People were constantly telling me that broadband was too slow or too expensive to be of much use to their family, farm or small business.”
Months into the pandemic, he introduced the Broadband Reform and Investment to Drive Growth in the Economy (BRIDGE) Act, legislation that would have allocated $40 billion in federal funds to states, tribal governments and U.S. territories. .
Although the BRIDGE Act did not pass the 117th Congress, the wording of the bill had a major influence on federal broadband policy that followed it, including the Investment Act. in infrastructure and employment, which was passed by the Senate in August and the House in November. The measure was signed by President Biden on November 6, 2021. It led to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment Program, details of which were released on May 13. .
BRIDGE Act precursor to the IIJA
The BRIDGE Act served as a precursor to the BEAD program in two respects. First, it put states in the driving seat to allocate federal funds instead of federal agencies, on the theory that states have the best understanding of the needs of their surrounding communities.
Second, the BRIDGE measure dramatically raised broadband speed standards, more than quadrupling the FCC’s longstanding 25.3 megabits per second (Mbps) download standard by requiring that projects funded under the law provide at least 100 Mbps of symmetrical broadband connections.
The IIJA increased the dollars spent on broadband by the federal government, but it reduced speed requirements to 100 Mbps and 25 Mbps.
Other Colorado-focused broadband metrics
Colorado state lawmakers are also active in other broadband measures, as reported by Brandy Reitterthe executive director of the Colorado Broadband Office, and other speakers at the conference.
Earlier this year, Governor Jared Polis issued an executive order directing the Colorado Broadband Office to develop a strategic plan to connect 99% of Colorado households to high-speed Internet access by 2027.
Colorado’s last legislative session saw increased activity in the broadband space, with much of the legislation passed aimed at expanding broadband initiatives across the state to meet the governor’s goals.
A key piece of legislation was House Bill 21-1289, which invested $75 million of the state’s US bailout funds into digital inclusion programs. Of this allocation, $35 million was dedicated to digital inclusion projects, including $20 million allocated to the Southern Ute Mountain Tribes; $15 million was invested in telehealth and telemedicine; and $35 million has been allocated to a broadband stimulus grant program, which ISPs and other providers can apply to access funding.
The final $5 million in funding was allocated to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs for the Digital Connectivity Program, which communities interested in building a midstream broadband network can access.
Senate Bill 21-60 allocated an additional $5 million to digital inclusion grant programs, managed by the Office of eHealth Innovation, and specifically earmarked funds to provide rebates of up to 50% to Coloradans with telemedicine bills.
House Bill 22-83 established the framework for the Colorado Department of Transportation to implement right-of-way authorization and use systems.
Finally, House Bill 22-1306 shortened the time in which the Colorado Broadband Office reviews grants from 60 days to 45 days. This bill helps alleviate supply chain issues, as the price of supplies can often spike 10-20% in an extra 15 days.
Reitter said these measures help the state of Colorado actively participate in all possible federal funding programs.
The state plans to take advantage of the NTIA’s Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment program and hopes to receive up to $700 million in funding from the program, based on data from the Colorado Broadband Office.
“We believe this is a real opportunity to continue investing in broadband,” Reiter said of the BEAD program.