20190605-wbr-broadband

In May, the Wyoming Business Council and the Broadband Advisory Council updated the Wyoming Broadband Enhancement Plan, aimed at creating access to high-quality business and residential broadband internet around the state. You can go online to http://wyobbmap.org/ to take a test to measure your internet speed. Courtesy Wyoming State Broadband Program

How fast is your internet?

If it’s below download speeds of at least 25 Mbps – and much of Wyoming is below that target – the Wyoming Broadband Advisory Council aims to change that before 2023.

If you don’t know how fast your internet is, the council can tell you with an online map at http://wyobbmap.org/.

“For any of us to compete in the 21st century with our current businesses and potential new businesses, it’s imperative to have reliable broadband,” said Ashley Harpstreith, chief executive officer for Goshen County Economic Development Corporation and a member of the state’s Broadband Advisory Council.

The Federal Communications Commission has established that “advanced telecommunications capability” requires access to download speeds of at least 25 Mbps and upload speeds of at least 3 Mbps.

This means that residents of rural Wyoming are limited by access, with an average download speed of just 17 Mbps. For today’s business owner, though, reliable internet means reliable service, and to that end, the State of Wyoming has focused significant energy, time and money on broadband internet enhancements across the state in the past year.

Broadband is a speed benchmark set and updated by the FCC, last updated in 2015, and is also used as a shorthand term for quality internet service, according to the Wyoming State Broadband Program.

“Everything we do – from buying groceries, making calls on the road, accessing education, to visiting the doctor or utilizing telehealth services in our rural areas – is tied into utilization of internet,” Harpstreith said.

In May, the Wyoming Business Council and the Broadband Advisory Council updated the Wyoming Broadband Enhancement Plan, which is aimed at creating access to high-quality business and residential broadband internet across the state. The plan, which defines underserved regions around the state so as to offer grant funding, was developed when former Gov. Matt Mead signed a law providing $10 million to establish a broadband infrastructure grant fund. The law also allowed for $350,000 to establish a broadband coordinator position at the Business Council, and created the Broadband Advisory Council to oversee the agency’s efforts.

The updates made in May also ensure that the plan is in compliance with 2019 legislation, and include additions specific to telehealth, mobile broadband, wireless broadband, blockchain and education components.

Telehealth services, for example, rely on a consistent, scalable and fully redundant broadband network, because to deliver any health-care services online, the network must be foolproof.

Reliable, high-speed broadband e-connectivity is critical for economic prosperity in rural Wyoming, as well as throughout the state, said Chad Rupe, former director of USDA Rural Development in Wyoming, and currently the acting administrator for USDA’s Rural Utilities Service. Rupe, who recently resigned from the advisory council, said broadband is a necessity, not an amenity, for Wyoming.

“Broadband is vital for quality of life and economic opportunity,” Rupe said.

Also in May, the advisory council established its top priorities for the remainder of 2019 and 2020. Those include leveraging a new online map, which measures users’ internet speeds, to communicate, promote, collect and populate broadband survey mapping data. The data collected will be used to build a foundation for public-private partnerships to pursue available grants, loans and other funding opportunities at the local, state and federal levels.

The council will also pursue public-private partnerships and initiate projects within the areas of the state in critical need of enhanced broadband capabilities; identify and pursue opportunities for local, state and federal legislation and policies to address key barriers and opportunities such as rights of way, permitting, environmental reviews, joint use of infrastructure, bonding requirements, communication tower construction and middle-mile issues; and monitor developments and pilot test new broadband internet solutions in the most remote and rural areas of the state.

City of Powell Administrator Zane Logan, who also sits on the advisory council, said that in today’s global economy, broadband connectivity is an absolute necessity, not a luxury.

“My goal as a member of the Broadband Advisory Council is to help provide opportunities, information and guidance for all Wyoming residences and businesses, including those in the rural areas, to have access to high-speed broadband services,” Logan said.

Harpstreith said that the Goshen County Economic Development Corporation felt broadband connectivity is so crucial that it included in its strategic plan a goal to make sure every business and citizen of Goshen County has access to redundant, reliable and affordable broadband.

“We will continue to champion our business case until that is a reality,” Harpstreith said. “Public-private partnerships are a must, and we hope to leverage state and federal funds to make this a reality.”

The Broadband Advisory Council has already done heavy lifting around the state, she said, including the creation of its interactive internet speed map.

“Mapping will help with understanding the unserved areas by addressing where the gaps are, which will, in turn, lead to appropriate grant funding,” she said. “The council is also staying focused on emerging technologies that my community may not have considered a year ago, so having education on that has been extremely helpful.”

It’s imperative that the people of Wyoming understand the advisory council’s role and importance to the state’s business climate, she said.

“Education, in general, on terms, industry jargon, permitting (and) environmental reviews has been extremely helpful for our community to understand how to address their needs and position our business case,” she said. “The list could go on, but the bottom line is having a formalized focus on the needs of the state, and advocating on the behalf of every Wyoming citizen is setting our state up for success.”

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