Colorado Innovation Council Seeks to Make Good on State's Promise of Better Broadband

August 28 – The state of Colorado likes to see itself as an emerging technology hub. But the dark cloud hanging over the future of Colorado’s technological progress may be its low ranking in broadband availability throughout parts of the heavily rural state.

Broadband Census Colorado

This is the ninth of a series of articles surveying the state of broadband, and broadband data, within each of the United States. Among the next profiles: Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah.

August 28 – The state of Colorado likes to see itself as an emerging technology hub.

The Rocky Mountain state, which is currently hosting the Democratic National Convention in Denver, placed ninth in a recent “New Economy Index” that sought to benchmark indices of a knowledge-based economy.

Many of the leading players in the cable and satellite industries hail from the state, which is home to its industry technology consortium CableLabs. Reinforced by its winter skiing and its cool summers, the state’s high quality of life makes it a natural locale for many of industry-leading telecommunications conferences by the Aspen Institute, the Progress and Freedom Foundation, and Silicon Flatirons.

If there is a dark cloud on the future of Colorado’s technological progress, however, it is the limitation of rural broadband access.

The same report that said Colorado was ninth for its tech economy ranked it 21st among states for its broadband telecommunications. (It was published by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and the Kauffman Foundation.) Another report, published in December 2005 by Broadband Properties Magazine, put Colorado in 20th place in broadband deployment, behind rural neighbors Nebraska and Kansas.

State officials now say they are determined to do something about these low broadband rankings.

Current Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat, ran for office in 2006 on a platform dubbed “The Colorado Promise,” and which was replete with references to innovation – and to broadband.

“For Colorado’s communities to thrive and compete for jobs in the information economy, it is critical that its government commit to spurring broadband deployment in all parts of the state,” read the document. It said the government can be engaged in three ways: better e-government utilization, removing obstacles to entrepreneurship and providing economic incentives for building out rural broadband.

Once in office, Ritter chartered the Governor’s Innovation Council with an agenda heavily focused on broadband. An October 2007 Executive Order created the council and charged its Broadband Working Group (one of three subgroups) to “develop and assist in the execution of a plan to facilitate broadband deployment throughout Colorado.”

This year, the state legislature and the task force are drilling into the subject with a heavy focus on acquiring better broadband data. Building off a report from a 2007 Aspen Institute conference (released in January 2008) authored by Phil Weiser, a telecommunications law professor at the University of Colorado, the task force decided that it needed better statewide broadband data.

Weiser was named co-chair of the Council’s Broadband Working Group, together with 14 others – including officials from telecommunications companies and local government. Of the task force, Ken Fellman, a local government attorney and the former mayor of Arvada, Co., said: “We have the big companies at the table, but they don’t have a majority voice.”

In a follow-up memo in February 2008, Weiser urged that the state go forward with a broadband mapping initiative. He highlighted the efforts of the non-profit groups Connect Kentucky and its parent, Connected Nation, Inc., as well as initiatives of other states.

“It is possible that the mapping project itself will spur additional broadband deployment, but there may well be unserved areas where a tax credit program or a universal service-type program could be effective,” Weiser wrote.

In April, the Colorado legislature passed Senate bill 215, which orders the creation of a statewide map “to help broadband providers and policymakers better understand the current availability of broadband service throughout the state.”

As with the data collected by Connect Kentucky, it appears as though the initiative in Colorado will not identify the service areas of a particular carrier. The bill designates that “any information designed by the provider entity as confidential or proprietary shall be treated as such.”

The Innovation Council and its task force were instrumental in drafting a request for bids to undertake the broadband mapping effort. The 33-page proposal has as its core objective the development of this statewide inventory, but also seeks to study actual broadband speeds, and to develop a web service that combines interactive maps and public broadband information.

“This is not going to be worth the time and money unless we get pretty granular and figure out what level of connectivity we have when we say broadband,” said Fellman. “We are not following the Connected Nation model, although the final direction has not been decided.”

In an e-mail, Weiser said that the task force’s goal was to “enable citizens to use this technology for an array of important applications, including ways to conserve energy, facilitate access to health care and education and to spur economic development.”

The state and the Innovation Council also plans to host a Broadband Summit, at the offices of communications provider Level 3 Communications in Broomfield, Colo., on November 14, 2008.

Editor’s Note: seeks to provide information about broadband availability, competition, speeds and prices on a carrier-by-carrier basis across the country. Editor Drew Clark, then senior fellow and project manager for the Center for Public Integrity, participated in the May 2007 and August 2007 Aspen Institute forums in which Weiser was the rapporteur.

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