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Local Tribes Get Broadband Boost

March 27, 2023

The 2021 infrastructure bill earmarked more money for broadband internet access than ever before. The Southern Ute Indian Tribe is one beneficiary, getting nearly $44 million to connect nearly 1,800 Native American households to high speed internet. Funds will be deployed locally to help close the digital divide faced by Tribal communities. By Connor Shreve. This story is sponsored by Southwest Health System and Big O Tires

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Southern Ute Indian Tribe -

Ute Mountain Ute Tribe -

Senator Michael Bennet -

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Work is underway to outfit area Native American reservations with the most comprehensive improvement to broadband access ever seen. Funding is the result of the BRIDGE Act, which was included in the 2021 infrastructure bill. You're watching the Local News Network, brought to you by Southwest Health System and Big O Tires. I'm Connor Shreve. Tens of millions of dollars is being distributed from passage of the BRIDGE Act, which was written with the intention of connecting area tribes to high speed internet access. Colorado Democratic Senator, Michael Bennet, was one of a bipartisan group of 22 senators who negotiated the measure.

For so long, this country has spent, you know, on the tune of $50 billion subsidizing the largest telecom companies in the world to not deliver broadband in rural America and rural Colorado. Delmont Electrical Association figured out how to do that. We wrote a bill called the BRIDGE Act that, basically memorialized the work they were already doing and then fought to have that included in the infrastructure. The bipartisan infrastructure bill

$43 million earmarked for the Southern Ute Tribe as part of a larger $65 billion effort included in the more comprehensive infrastructure bill to connect all households to affordable, high-speed broadband. Something Bennett says, gained lots of traction in recent sessions.

If we're willing to accept a world where some kids have access to high speed internet and other kids don't have access to it, that's the same thing as saying some kids have access to textbooks and other kids have no access to textbooks. In a digital world, that's exactly the same thing.

The program is part of a larger push to improve broadband access nationwide. The larger infrastructure bill is supporting more than $5 million worth of projects in La Plata County, more than $200,000 for projects in Montezuma County, and $100,000 for projects in Dolores County. Senator Bennett says the measures were written to give local decision makers the power.

So, the biggest difference here is that states and communities are going to decide how that money is spent, not big telecommunications companies and I think that's going to mean that rural America and rural Colorado, especially in southwest Colorado, is going to be a big beneficiary of the these funds.

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe says it can now focus on bridging the digital divide that exists within its tribal lands. Tribe Chairman, Melvin Baker, says, money from the award will go toward connecting tribal members and other Native Americans living within its reservation. While millions of dollars have already been awarded, money from larger broadband measures will be rolled out throughout the year.

You know, at some point, Colorado's going to receive some number of hundreds of millions of dollars. We're not exactly sure what the amount is yet. And then Colorado, not Washington, is going to make the decision about how to distribute that money across the state and support local communities that are coming together to do this work. So, it's going to really be distributed and I think in the end, that's going to mean, you know, real broadband, especially for kids and small businesses in rural Colorado.

When all is said and done, the money will help to install fiber connecting thousands of un-served Native American households with service of at least 250 megabits per second. For more information about this and other stories, visit Thank you for watching this edition of The Local News Network, I'm Connor Shreve.


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