Ute Mountain Tribe awarded grants for broadband infrastructure – The Journal

Ute Mountain Ute President Manuel Heart, center, with Colorado Health Foundation officials Khanh Nguyen and Dr. Ben Bynum in Denver. (Courtesy picture)

Lack of services on rural reservations limits economic growth, education and health care

The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe has been awarded $4.65 million to provide high-speed internet access on its reservation in Colorado by 2024.

The tribe received $1.15 million from the Colorado Health Foundation for the project.

The funding provides 25% matching of a $3.5 million internet services grant the tribe recently received from the Colorado High Cost Support Mechanism Fund.

The broadband project will be managed by Ute Mountain Communications Enterprise.

The major investment in broadband infrastructure will provide affordable services to Ute Mountain homes and businesses by 2024, Tribal Chairman Manuel Heart said in a news release.

He said many homes and businesses on the reservation are underserved, with minimum speeds below the Federal Communications Commission minimum speeds of 25 megabits per second download and 3 megabits per second upload.

Increasing internet speed and capacity is critical, officials said.

“Broadband speeds will make a significant difference to our communities for economic development, education and health care, improving government services, and keeping communities vibrant,” the press release reads.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit rural tribal reservations without good internet access particularly hard, as more of daily life has shifted to commerce and online interactions due to shutdowns.

The situation has further compounded economic challenges for the tribes, and investment in broadband should mitigate the downturn while preparing the region to be more resilient to future economic stressors.

“The Foundation saw an opportunity to impact youth living on the reservation in terms of online education as well as the opportunity to begin offering virtual behavioral health and primary care visits to Coloradans living on the reservation. “said Dr. Ben Bynum, of the Colorado Health Foundation. “Furthermore, reliable broadband allows the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe to build and sustain their own e-commerce marketplace, which drives wealth creation that can stay within their community.”

Rural areas say federal and state subsidies are key to improving broadband infrastructure because the market isn’t attractive to businesses.

Ute Mountain officials said access to reliable broadband services is the biggest barrier to implementing strategies to improve the economy, workforce development and education .

“Many of our rural homes and businesses only have access to low-quality line-of-sight or high-cost satellite wireless service,” the tribe said in a news release. “We need sufficient broadband infrastructure to help people working from home and from their office, our students to attend classes and our citizens to access health services.”

Other broadband projects are also planned for members living on the White Mesa Reservation in Utah, Heart said.

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