The five counties in the Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado are launching surveys to gather information on internet speeds and availability for future use in grant applications.
Montezuma, Archuleta and La Plata counties have already released surveys on their county websites asking residents to take an internet speed test or report that they do not have access to high-speed connectivity.
The data collected will be used in applications for money available through the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment Program. The funding, if awarded, will be used to bring internet service to unserved and underserved rural areas in Southwest Colorado.
“The areas that are heavily impacted without any proper, good broadband coverage will receive a little bit more priory than others, so this data will show that need,” said La Plata County Commissioner Matt Salka.
La Plata County, in conjunction with Region 9, has applied for “middle-mile” funding from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration in order to bring a broadband backbone through the region.
The counties are now gathering data to apply for “last-mile,” which would connect individual homes and businesses into the region’s fiber-optic network.
“We do have some sort of a sense that there's a need for better coverage here,” said Salka. “But we’ve got to show proof.”
High-speed internet is increasingly considered a necessity, rather than a luxury. In rural areas in particular, broadband can enable access to myriad virtual services. It has been linked to increases in property values, economic growth and positive health outcomes while decreasing unemployment.
The Federal Communications Commission released a new map of broadband access last fall. However, Salka said that internet service providers sometimes inflate the speeds they deliver, making undeserved regions appear as if they have adequate coverage.
The counties’ surveys will report actual speeds.
Shak Powers, regional programs manager at Region 9, said the accurate data is necessary to prove Southwest Colorado should be a funding priority.
Without the funding, residents are likely to remain without high-speed internet.
“It needs to be grant-funded because (in) some of these more remote areas out in our counties, it just will never make financial sense for the private internet service providers to try and build it out on their own,” Powers said.
Funding for individual capital projects for unserved areas have a cap of $20 million.