April 21, 2020

Forget DIY crafts. Rural Colorado is trying out DIY broadband

Project Thor wants to smash the digital divide to smithereens.

In 2018, the internet in western Colorado kept cutting out.

Sometimes essential services lost access at the least opportune times — like when hospitals were sending out patient X-rays. So locals decided to take a hammer to the system.

A council of local governments gathered to fund a DIY solution. The result: Project Thor, a public and private collaboration to expand broadband services into the most rural parts of the state. A few weeks ago, Project Thor finally booted up.

In 2 years, the region built 481 miles of broadband hardware for a slim price tag: $2.6m.

Meet the homework gap, which is even less fun than it sounds

The rise of remote work, classes, birthday parties, and weddings is drawing attention to a long-simmering disparity in the US: Not everyone can access the internet.

The Atlantic once dubbed the problem the “homework gap,” referring to the population of kids who struggle to complete their schoolwork because they have no internet.

  • 90% of schools assign homework that requires the internet, according to students.
  • But 15% of households with kids don’t have access to high-speed internet. Among families earning under $30k, that figure jumps to 1 in 3.

In the Before Times, students may have been able to turn to their local libraries, but now they’re out of options.

Expanding broadband is looking slicker than ever

To maximize profits, many private providers have skipped over poor, rural areas in favor of the real moneymakers — dense, high-income neighborhoods.

That’s why local governments have started to step in. An estimated 900 communities across the US now have some type of public broadband service.

Project Thor isn’t piping powerful service directly into people’s houses. But it beefs up infrastructure for local providers to use. So if we suddenly see a surge of TikTok dances from western Colorado, we’ll know why.

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