Broadband goal for Colorado schools scrutinized

An intergovernmental entity that's failed to meet its goal of connecting most Colorado school districts to broadband says it's gotten an extension to complete the work.

Westminster-based Eagle-Net Alliance received a $100.6 million federal grant in 2010 to improve broadband service for schools. But with about 90 percent of the money spent by May, Eagle-Net had connected less than half of the 168 school districts that it sought to link to a broadband network by August 2013. Others have multiple connections.

"The problem is, is they did spend money to connect Cherry Creek, when they could've spent it in other areas," said Tim Miles, Technology Director for the Steamboat Springs School District.

"What they did is they came in and decided to build a network that in many cases completely overbuilds existing networks," said Peter Kirchhof, Executive Vice President of the Colorado Telecommunications Association.

Eagle-Net's leaders faced a state audit committee on Wednesday.

"We're not aiming for underserved and rural areas. What we're aiming for is to build a network throughout the state of Colorado," Eagle-Net President Michael Ryan said.

"That's the very sad part of this whole thing. $100 million to rural Colorado could've made a huge difference in providing broadband to those communities, and unfortunately we think that's been a wasted opportunity," Kirchhof said.

Ryan told lawmakers Wednesday the original grant money will cover 86 percent of school districts by the end of 2014, which is the new deadline. He says at least $17 million more will be needed to cover all districts.

Eagle-Net is a publicly funded entity.

Some Colorado telecommunications companies contend Eagle-Net is duplicating existing infrastructure.

"All of our schools had over 100 megabits and Eagle-Net continually comes in and buries directly on top of us," said Alan Wehe, manager of the Blanca Telephone Company.

7NEWS Reporter Amanda Kost asked the CEO of PC-Telecom, "Is it possible they could've saved money and just collaborated with you instead of building lines where they already existed?"

"Oh absolutely," Vince Kropp responded. "They could've saved millions of dollars. We estimate somewhere between $4 (million) and probably closer to $5 million could've been saved if they would've worked with us. And some of these folks who are without services today could've got services and that's the real unfortunate part of about this."