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Updated PNS Daily Newscast - September, 22 2017 


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State Steps Up to Bring New Electricity to Rural Colo.

Scott Bookman with Uncompahgre Medical Center in Norwood says connectivity issues can slow transmission of medical images such as x-rays to remote radiologists, hampering diagnosis and care for patients. (David Cornwell)
Scott Bookman with Uncompahgre Medical Center in Norwood says connectivity issues can slow transmission of medical images such as x-rays to remote radiologists, hampering diagnosis and care for patients. (David Cornwell)
September 13, 2017

DENVER – Colorado leaders are doubling down on efforts to make sure all parts of the state have high-speed access to the Internet.

Tony Neal-Graves, executive director of the Broadband Office for the Governor's Office of Information Technology, says government has a role to play getting all of Colorado's residents connected in much the same way the state helped bring electricity and telephone services to remote areas in the past.

"And each one of those things have driven economic development – whether it's business development, it's developing educational opportunities, developing health care opportunities – broadband is that ‘new thing’ in the 21st century that we really have to deliver to people," he states.

According to the Colorado Broadband Data and Development Program, nearly 1 in 4 rural residents doesn’t have high-speed access.

Neal-Graves says that means children have a hard time completing homework assignments, seniors aren't able to access government services and health care providers who rely on digital technologies can be put on hold.

Scott Bookman, executive director of Uncompahgre Medical Center, says in a place as isolated as Norwood, health providers and patients are subject to the whims of the elements.

He says a windstorm could disrupt the Center’s wireless connection and knock out its ability to send radiology images to specialists in Grand Junction.

"Which means that our providers on site here, who rely on that safety net to make accurate and timely diagnoses, will all of a sudden be on their own," he points out.

Neal-Graves says cost is the biggest barrier, and suggests remote areas already would have broadband if the private sector thought the math made sense.

He says the state isn't currently interested in providing Internet services, but can help get infrastructure in place, which could make the economics more appealing to companies such as Verizon and Comcast.

"If we don't do that, these remote communities are never going to have access to these services,” he stresses. “And then therefore, over time, I think it's going to become economically difficult for those communities to continue to survive."

Technology gaps also can deepen racial and economic divides. A Pew Research Center study found that nearly 5 million households with school-age children lack high speed Internet service nationally, and a disproportionate number were low-income and families of color.

The Colorado Governor's Office of Information Technology has set a goal to increase reliable broadband services to 85 percent of residents by the end of next year, and to reach 100 percent by 2020.

This story was produced with original reporting from Michael Booth for The Colorado Trust.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO