As Colorado nears 100% broadband access, funds for rural support shrink
San Antonio is a very small, rural community in the San Luis Valley. It’s about 5 miles south of Antonito, near the New Mexico border. It’s also in a low valley with trees that block reception from wireless broadband service offered in other parts of Conejos County.
But as early as next March, the community of 90 households and three businesses will be able to order gigabit internet service. This isn’t wireless. Alamosa-based Jade Communications plans to run fiber-optic gigabit internet lines to every customer’s home.
Getting the remaining fringes of rural Colorado up to modern-day speed — at least 25 mbps down, 3 up, according to federal minimums — has been an expensive chore ignored by existing telecoms for years. There are still about 85,000 rural households, or 14% of Colorado households, with slow or no broadband. But armed with state grants, smaller internet providers are jumping at the chance to get every nook of Colorado up to speed, as the state itself aims for 100% rural coverage even as funding sources shrink.
“Rural carriers want to do this, but they look at their pocketbook and realize that if I got every customer in the area, even after 50 years I’m not going to come out ahead,” said Josh Wehe, Jade’s director of operations. “I could not afford to do these projects without the (grant). It’s been a wonderful thing.”
Ironically, funding previously used to subsidize rural telephone service now supports broadband grants. Incumbent telecom providers are being criticized for not offering acceptable internet speeds much sooner. In Jade’s application for San Antonio, it called CenturyLink’s broadband “antiquated DSL technology” that residents in the canyon reported is “less than 1 Mbps, sometimes even at 256 Kbps.”
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