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New Report Spotlights The Rural West’s Connectivity Gap 

A report published this week by the National Association of Counties found that more than 75% of rural counties had internet and cellular connections that fell well below minimum government standards. The problem is especially acute in the Mountain West. For the most part, only wealthy enclaves like Jackson, Wyoming, have good broadband, the study’s connectivity maps show.

Scott Franz/Capitol Coverage

A new blazing fast internet connection in Paonia is making it easier for Americans who live far from Colorado to order cowboy hats that make them look like their favorite Western movie stars.

Scott Franz/Capitol Coverage

It takes a lot of grit, and good pair of ski goggles, to live in Ophir, Colorado.

Winds can reach 70 miles per hour during the winter in this old mining town nestled in a box canyon near Telluride. And sometimes, residents have to park well short of town and hike through the big snowdrifts to get back home.

Scott Franz/Capitol Coverage

Editor's note: This story is the first of a three-part series looking at the state of Colorado's efforts to get rural households connected to high-speed internet.

NORWOOD- People living in the small farming town of Norwood have done some strange things to stay connected to the internet.

For example, librarian Carrie Andrew said the security cameras at the library once captured a young man arrive on his bicycle after hours to utilize the building's blazing fast Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi can be hard to find in the rural parts of our region. In fact, about six in ten rural Americans believe access to high-speed internet is a problem where they live. But that might change. Today the Department of Interior announced a new effort to increase access to broadband on federal lands.

Even in 2017 -- in the time of smart phones, speakers and appliances -- access to broadband is still a problem in parts of Colorado. Not every home or business can connect to high speed or reliable internet. In some rural areas, there is no broadband at all.

But in 16 Colorado cities, local leaders are hoping voters will let them explore options for providing broadband internet service.

Bente Birkeland / Capitol Coverage

Colorado is a resilient state. The unemployment rate is among the lowest in the nation and the population along the Front Range is booming. It’s easy to see the impact of a strong economy in Denver. Construction cranes are up all over the city and it’s harder than ever to find affordable housing.

But it’s a different story in many parts of western Colorado.

Jim Hill / KUNC

Across Colorado, the failure of existing providers to provide fast, reliable broadband means many counties and towns are investigating other options. One Front Range town, Longmont, is already providing high-speed internet to its citizens at a cost below that of Google Fiber.

Yet in Colorado, in order to offer broadband services, municipalities need to override a 2005 state law. Known as, SB 05-152 [.pdf], the law requires voter approval before a government entity can provide telecommunications services such as broadband.

In the 2014 election, several municipalities and counties voted in favor of an override, including the city of Boulder. Now in 2015, the override trend seems to be sweeping Colorado. Forty-five counties, municipalities and school districts have a broadband override on their ballot.

More Farmers Logging Onto The Internet

Aug 21, 2015
Luke Runyon / KUNC and Harvest Public Media

The U.S. Department of Agriculture finds that farms across the country are increasingly gaining internet access. As it stands, 70 percent of U.S. farms and ranches have access, an increase of three percentage points since 2013. But even while rural America becomes more connected, a large percentage of farms still aren’t able to go online.

Jim Hill / KUNC

Voters in Fort Collins and Loveland will decide this November if they want their respective cities to pursue municipal broadband internet service. Recently both Fort Collins and Loveland city councils unanimously approved putting the initiative on their ballots.

According to a Coloradoan opinion piece by city manager Darin Atteberry, the city of Fort Collins currently “owns or has rights to many miles of unused fiber optic cable” but under most interpretations of state law the city can’t make that network available to the public unless voters give the city the go ahead.