January 29, 2023

The funding will connect 1,800 Native American homes to broadband

Broadband access is considered a “superdeterminant” of health outcomes. Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper have both worked to use federal funds to improve broadband access in Colorado. (journal file)

Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper announced Thursday that $44 million in funds from the bipartisan infrastructure bill will be used to connect the southern Ute tribe to high-speed broadband Internet. The award enables 1,798 households to be connected to the system.

The funding comes as part of spending nearly $1.35 billion to bring broadband to 94 tribes nationwide.

“Tribal communities too often find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide,” Bennet said in a statement. “With this funding, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe can bring their families, farms, businesses and schools online, help communities within reservation boundaries improve their broadband services, and begin to bridge this digital gap.”

The funding is in line with the tribe’s goal of having a broadband network covering 95% of its country by 2025. The tribe applied for funding from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which awarded the contract, to connect homes with fiber optic cables to broadband cables and deliver high-speed Internet.

“The Southern Ute Tribal Council has made the provision of affordable, high-quality, high-speed broadband internet on the reservation a top priority,” Southern Ute Indian Tribe Chairman Melvin J. Baker said in a statement. “The Southern Ute Indian Tribe is honored to receive this funding and with this grant we can now focus on making this important goal a reality and truly bridging the digital divide that exists in our tribal lands.”

Bennet, along with Democratic Senator Angus King of Maine and Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, introduced a bipartisan bill called the Broadband Reform and Investment to Drive Growth in the Economy Act in 2021. The goal of the legislation was to channel $40 billion to state, tribal and US territory governments to ensure broadband access, particularly in underserved, high-cost areas.

The BRIDGE Act was incorporated into the bipartisan infrastructure bill of which Hickenlooper was a co-author.

Broadband is now considered an essential infrastructure – the technology enables many of society’s daily needs and has been qualified as a ‘superdeterminant’ of health outcomes.

“The future is moving towards broadband: television, streaming phone services, the ability to remotely talk to your doctor online without having to go to the hospital,” said Matt Salka, La Plata County Commissioner. “Broadband is definitely important.”

The Ute Mountain Ute tribe also recently received a $22.7 million grant to develop broadband infrastructure on their tribal land as part of the same program.

The infrastructure will provide internet users with at least 250 megabits per second of symmetrical download and upload speeds.

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