The U.S. Department of Commerce is giving six Western Slope counties a boost in their efforts to develop better broadband access.

The department’s Economic Development Administration has approved an $880,640 grant to the Region 10 League for Economic Assistance and Planning from last year’s COVID-19 relief bill, known as the CARES Act.

The money is to be used to help the six counties Region 10 serves — Delta, Montrose, Ouray, Gunnison, Hinsdale and San Miguel counties — to improve access to affordable, reliable and abundant internet service.

The money is to be matched with a local commitment of $220,160 in the effort, which is expected to create 100 jobs, retain 100 existing jobs and generate about $2.5 million in private investments.

“The Economic Development Administration is committed to helping communities across the nation implement strategies to mitigate economic hardships brought on by the coronavirus pandemic,” said Dennis Alvord, acting assistant secretary of commerce for economic development. “This EDA investment will build a resilient, redundant network for the Western Slope of Colorado, reducing broadband transport costs and providing more affordable and reliable internet service to the area.”

The effort had the support and backing of Gov. Jared Polis and the state’s two U.S. senators, Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper.

“This investment will support Western Colorado’s efforts to expand broadband access and help families learn, work, access health care and connect with friends and family,” Bennet said.

“Reliable and affordable internet is not a luxury for rural communities, it’s a necessity,” Hickenlooper added. “Increasing access to broadband will help create jobs, attract development and lay the groundwork for a thriving Western Slope economy.”

It also comes at a time that AT&T has announced a major national effort to spend $2 billion over the next three years, particularly in rural and underserved areas of he nation.

Some of its programs are aimed at helping schools better teach their students, something that’s become especially crucial during the pandemic.

Like AT&T, other wireless telecommunications companies have similar programs.

T-Mobile, for example, has been offering free or low-cost Wi-Fi hotspots to rural students in low-income families in Colorado, including at Mesa County District 51.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Legislature is working on measures to help boost broadband deployment in the state, including putting nearly $1 million more into the state’s Broadband Deployment Fund.