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$44 million announced for Southern Ute Tribe high-speed internet

Funding will connect 1,800 Native American households to broadband
Broadband access is considered a “super-determinant” of health outcomes. Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper have both worked to direct federal dollars to increasing broadband access in Colorado. (Journal file)

Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper announced Thursday that $44 million of funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will be directed to connect the Southern Ute Tribe to high-speed broadband internet. The award will enable the connection of 1,798 households to the system.

The funding comes as part of nearly $1.35 billion in spending to connect 94 tribes to broadband across the country.

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

The funding aligns with the tribe’s goal of having a broadband network that covers 95% of its land by 2025. The tribe applied for funding from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which made the award, to deploy fiber connecting households to broadband cable and deliver high-speed internet.

“The Southern Ute Tribal Council made the deployment of affordable, high-quality, high-speed broadband internet on the Reservation a top priority,” said Southern Ute Indian Tribe Chairman Melvin J. Baker in a statement. “The Southern Ute Indian Tribe is honored to be awarded this funding and with this grant we can now focus on making this important goal a reality and truly bridge the digital divide that exists within our Tribal Lands.”

Bennet introduced a bipartisan bill titled the Broadband Reform and Investment to Drive Growth in the Economy Act in 2021 along with Democratic Sen. Angus King of Maine and Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio. The goal of the legislation was to funnel $40 billion to states, tribal governments and U.S. territories to ensure broadband access, particularly in underserved, high-cost areas.

The BRIDGE Act was incorporated into the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, of which Hickenlooper was a co-author.

Broadband is now considered essential infrastructure – the technology enables many of the daily needs that society has and has been qualified as a “super-determinant” of health outcomes.

“The future is going toward broadband: TV, streaming phone services, being able to talk to your doctor remotely online, not having to go into the hospital,” said La Plata County Commissioner Matt Salka. “Broadband is definitely important.”

The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe also recently received $22.7 million in funding to develop broadband infrastructure on its tribal lands as a part of the same program.

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

rschafir@durangoherald.com

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