Bennet Discusses Challenges of Rural Broadband Access in La Junta, Recommits to Closing Digital Divide by Investing in Affordable, High-Speed Broadband across Colorado

Senator Bennet (second from right) meets with (left to right:) Jon Saunders, SECOM; Danelle Berg, Otero County; Rick Klein, City of La Junta; Sara Blackhurst, Action 22 in La Junta

Denver – Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet joined local government leaders, broadband stakeholders, and providers in La Junta for a discussion on the region’s efforts to deploy affordable, high-speed broadband for Coloradans in Southeastern Colorado. The local leaders stressed the importance of expanding rural broadband access in Southeast Colorado where only 47% of rural households have access to broadband. With the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic accelerating reliance on broadband, Bennet offered his support for regional efforts and shared his work to advance legislation at the federal level to close the digital divide and secure funding to keep rural Colorado connected. 

“Affordable, high-speed broadband is essential to full participation in modern American life, allowing people to telework, learn remotely, and access telemedicine. However, as I discussed with local leaders in La Junta, many rural Coloradans still lack access – or are stuck with slow speeds that pose a huge barrier to Southeast Colorado’s ability to educate and develop their workforce,” said Bennet. “I’ll continue pushing at the federal level for my BRIDGE Act and broadband funding to keep rural Colorado connected and invest in a 21st century broadband infrastructure.”

 “Senator Bennet’s BRIDGE Act is the best piece of legislation I’ve seen that addresses the challenges of rural Colorado and takes into account the needs of local providers. His legislation would permanently fix the issues we’ve faced,” said Jon Saunders, Chief Business Development Officer, SECOM. “We’re grateful to Senator Bennet for taking the time to talk with us about increasing broadband accessibility for Southeastern Colorado and I was very impressed with his thoughtful plan to invest in rural broadband.”

“Broadband has become a city utility just like electricity, gas and water. As rural communities experience a jump in population due to people moving out of larger cities into smaller communities, it is imperative that rural Colorado increase their broadband accessibility – first mile, middle mile and last mile,” said Danelle Berg, Otero County Economic Development. 

Bennet’s Broadband Reform and Investment to Drive Growth in the Economy (BRIDGE) Act of 2020 would provide $30 billion in flexible funding to States and $1 billion to Tribal Governments to deploy affordable, high-speed broadband in unserved and underserved communities nationwide, provided newly built networks meet minimum requirements for speed and affordability. The bill requires States and Tribal Governments to competitively award funding and incents applicants that can quickly start and complete construction, demonstrate community support, and offer gigabit-level speeds. It also raises the minimum speed requirements for any funded network to no less than 100/100 Mbps (megabits per second), while requiring low latency for modern uses like videoconferencing. The legislation also preempts restrictions on the ability of communities to deploy their own broadband networks and accelerates an overhaul of the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) data collection.  

In May, Bennet introduced the Emergency Educational Connections Act to help students access mobile hotspots and Wi-Fi enabled devices during the pandemic. Bennet called on the FCC to coordinate with other federal agencies to ensure that the millions of Americans newly eligible for SNAP or Medicaid due to the pandemic are also informed of their eligibility for the Lifeline program, which offers discounted internet access for low-income Americans. In March, Bennet also wrote to the FCC to ensure Americans are not disconnected from the Lifeline program during the crisis and called on the country’s top internet companies to keep families connected and to waive data caps and overage fees until the pandemic has abated. Last year, Bennet introduced the Broadband Transparency and Accountability Act to reform how internet companies report data on the availability of affordable, quality broadband across the country.