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EDC Insights – Broadband: Navigating A Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity for Chaffee

From 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Monday, August 21 the  Chaffee County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) Insights series presents “Broadband: Navigating a Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity” at the Surf Hotel and Chateau (1012 Front Loop #1, Buena Vista). The featured speakers are Colorado Broadband Office (CBO) Executive Director Brandy Reitter, County Commissioner Keith Baker, and Aristata Communications (formerly Colorado Central Telecom) CEO Carlin Walsh.

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EDC members can attend the event for free. Non-member tickets cost $25 plus a $3.52 fee. Tickets to the event can be acquired at  Eventbrite. The event features a keynote and Question and Answer session with Reitter hosted by Walsh and followed by a reception.

Reliable, high-speed internet is more important than ever in a world of online shopping, telehealth, and remote work. The effort to provide high-speed connectivity has been compared to the effort to “Electrify Rural America” in the early 20th century.

Federal grants are key to funding efforts to expand infrastructure for high-speed internet services, like fiber. One such government grant was used by Aristata Communications to install fiber up Chalk Creek Canyon to St. Elmo, though there is still plenty of ground that needs to be covered to connect rural residents.

Rural residents may hear talk of BEAD funding in reference to their internet service. The Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program provides $42.45 billion to expand high-speed internet access. This program serves all 50 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

The state of Colorado is set to receive $826.5 million of this funding to build improved broadband infrastructure and connect more residents with high-speed service. It will require collaboration between private industry and local and state governments to take advantage of this nearly one billion dollars of federal funding.

If all goes well, and Chaffee County can take advantage of some of this funding, it means faster internet could be on its way to rural residences that are quickly falling behind as technology outpaces available speeds in remote areas.

About the EDC Insights Speakers

Reitter joined the Colorado Broadband Office in 2022. She provides oversight and management of programs and statewide strategy for broadband deployment. Her work includes education, outreach, supporting regional collaborations, fostering relations with partners, and mobilizing resources to improve the access and affordability of high-speed internet. Reitter assists with policy and legislative development and serves on various broadband boards.

Keith Baker, Chair of the Chaffee Board of County Commissioners thanks Aristata Communications founder Carlin Walsh as their board member Wendell Pryor looks on. Merrell Bergin photo

Walsh, a fifth-generation Coloradan, is best known as the founder and owner of Elevation Beer Company. Ark Valley Voice covered Walsh’s acquisition of Colorado Central Telecom in 2022 as well as the recent rebrand of the company to Aristata Communications. According to their website, Aristata Communications seeks to “bridge the digital divide in the Central Rockies while transforming the relationships we have with our communities and customers to create a lasting, positive impact for generations ahead.”

Though new to the telecom industry, Walsh has been focused on these broadband dollars since his initial announcement of the rebrand at the 2023 Central Mountain Ascent event.

Baker is a retired US Navy commander and a businessman from Buena Vista. Baker was elected to become the Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners earlier this year. In Washington, Baker served a tour as a strategic policy planner on the Joint Staff at the Pentagon. Baker is a well-known figure in the Chaffee County Community and can be often seen at events like the BV Fourth of July parade, Ark Valley Pride, Community Coffee, and more.