Loveland’s Pulse to Extend Fiber to Unconnected Students with Help of Grant

The Thompson School District (TSD), which serves Loveland, Colorado and the surrounding area, just received a $731,000 grant to bring Internet access to families in need in two surrounding communities.

Families living in areas near Big Thompson Canyon and the Lago Vista Mobile Home Park where wireline broadband has been “significantly limited or not available” will see the expansion of Pulse — the city’s municipal fiber network — into those communities, bringing the promise of fast and affordable service in the near future.

The funds to expand the network come from the Connecting Colorado Students Grant Program, passed in 2020 to address the broadband gap for k-12 students and their teachers. School districts, charter schools, and federally recognized Tribes that operate public schools in the state are all eligible for the $20 million pot of money. Priority is given to applications that promise to bring broadband access to high numbers of students enrolled in free and reduced lunch programs who do not have access to wireline broadband, based on American Community Survey data.

The first round of awards in 2020 distributed almost $1.3 million to 25 applicants, with a focus on hotspots and subsidized broadband service. Some of the awards, however, went to new infrastructure, including wireless and wireline projects that will ultimately benefit thousands of students and their families. 

Bringing Students Online

Lago Vista Mobile Home Park, which is about halfway between the cities of Loveland and Fort Collins, was built in 1972 and encompasses 299 units that are home to about 1,000 residents. While most of the residents own their homes, they still pay the park — owned by a California-based investor — almost $500/month to rent the land and pay for utility services. Other mobile home parks in the area are serviced by the city’s public utility. 

The other community that will be connected to the Pulse network is Big Thompson Canyon, ten miles directly west of the city, towards Estes Park. All three cities (Loveland, Fort Collins, and Estes Park) are at varying stages of building municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks.

“Over the last year, our district has worked diligently to assist families who haven’t had adequate access to the Internet by offering and facilitating connection options; but we quickly recognized that for some areas of the community there weren't viable options,” said TSD Chief Technology Officer Matt Kuhn in a press release. “This grant money directly addresses the issue for families in these areas — we now have the resources to bring reliable Internet to them so that access to learning and information will no longer be a barrier.”

The Thompson School District serves 15,000 students across Loveland, Berthoud, and portions of Fort Collins, Windsor, and Johnstown, as well as parts of Boulder, Larimer, and Weld counties.

Loveland City Manager Steve Adams said of the award:

Pulse was formed to address, among other things, the disparity of access to reliable high-speed Internet access within our community. As a local Internet service provider, and TSD partner, we have the ability, desire and duty to support the educational needs of students within our district who don’t have sufficient access to the Internet.

Gap networks like these have surfaced all over the country in the last year, with some (like Champaign, Illinois) placing particular emphasis on unconnected student population in mobile home parks.

Pulse subscribers can choose from symmetrical tiers of 30 Megabits per second (Mbps), 1 Gbps, or 10 Gbps for $45, $75, or $300/month, respectively. And for the time being, the network is waiving installation fees.

For more on Loveland’s Pulse network, listen to Episode 443 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast below, where Christopher talks with Fiber Manager Brieana Reed-Harmel and Marketing and Communications Manager Lindsey Johansen.