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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."