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Colorado Working To Connect Thousands Of Students Who Don't Have Internet At Home

Scott Franz

Gov. Jared Polis announced Wednesday the state will spend $2 million of federal coronavirus relief money on a new effort to bring high-speed internet to tens of thousands of students who still do not have it at home.

"That learning at home component really is more important than ever before," he said. "Without broadband, without access, students are unable to participate in remote learning. They're often unable to do their homework when they are in school in person. They're more likely to disengage and fall behind."

Polis also promoted two additional state-backed initiatives to expand broadband access. He said T-Mobile is offering free WiFi hotspots to low-income families. In addition, the state is petition the Federal Communications Commission to invest more in broadband expansion efforts during the pandemic.

"These are just the first steps," Polis said, noting the T-Mobile program will benefit up to 30,000 families.

Polis said about 65,000 Colorado students, two-thirds of them Latino, do not have access to the internet at home. He said the issue affects families in both rural and urban school districts.

In cities like Norwood on the West Slope, the lack of broadband access at the start of the pandemic forced some parents and students to sit in the parking lot of their library to access the building's free WiFi connection.

But even that connection wasn't strong enough for some.

"One day (a mom) came to the library so her daughter could upload a four-minute video. It took an hour and it didn't upload because we didn't know it, but we needed to update our WiFi," librarian Carrie Andrew said in April. "So they ended up having to drive (66 miles) to Montrose to the lady's place of work the next day just to have good enough internet to upload this video for her daughter's college class."

Copyright 2020 KUNC

Scott Franz is a government watchdog reporter and photographer from Steamboat Springs. He spent the last seven years covering politics and government for the Steamboat Pilot & Today, a daily newspaper in northwest Colorado. His reporting in Steamboat stopped a police station from being built in a city park, saved a historic barn from being destroyed and helped a small town pastor quickly find a kidney donor. His favorite workday in Steamboat was Tuesday, when he could spend many of his mornings skiing untracked powder and his evenings covering city council meetings. Scott received his journalism degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is an outdoorsman who spends at least 20 nights a year in a tent. He spoke his first word, 'outside', as a toddler in Edmonds, Washington. Scott visits the Great Sand Dunes, his favorite Colorado backpacking destination, twice a year. Scott's reporting is part of Capitol Coverage, a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Fifteen public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.