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CHEYENNE - Leaders of High West Energy have decided to discontinue a project to offer high-speed broadband service to its members.

High West Energy is a member-owned, not-for-profit electric utility based in Pine Bluffs. The cooperative provides power to about 6,500 members in southeast Wyoming, western Nebraska and northern Colorado.

Leaders of the utility cooperative met with its members over the last several months to learn their opinions about the need for broadband service. They also analyzed the project's financial benefits and drawbacks.

"There is no doubt that there are people in the tri-state region who are underserved and lack high-speed internet access," Brian Heithoff, general manager and chief executive officer of High West Energy, said in a news release.

But opinions differed among its leaders about broadband. Many "were uncomfortable with the financial risk that comes with offering broadband," he added.

Ultimately, officials decided that not moving ahead was in the cooperative's best interests.

High West Energy's board of directors made the final decision, with the management team highly involved, Heithoff said.

The utility considered providing telephone, high-speed internet and television services. Its business plan assumed that in the second and third years of the project, the offer of broadband service could move into parts of Cheyenne.

Members of the cooperative were interested in the idea.

"I'd say the interest was very healthy and robust," Heithoff said. "It really comes down on the cost and the risk side."

High West Energy would have faced financial risk because of the cost of required infrastructure, Heithoff said. The utility would have had to borrow money to buy the equipment necessary to offer broadband.

Another concern was a competitive response risk the utility may have had to deal with, he said. This occurs when existing providers slash their rates to keep another operator out.

While it's good for the marketplace, High West Energy would have had to carry a debt for several years, Heithoff added.

High West Energy has 80 employees and would have added eight more in the first year of broadband service.

When asked if the issue might be reconsidered, Heithoff said, "We've made a final decision," and that it is the best outcome under the circumstances.

"I have no regrets over the process we used. The whole purpose was to help gather more information to make informed decisions. That is exactly what we did," Heithoff said.

High West Energy will continue serving its members by providing safe, reliable and competitively priced energy and services focusing on the needs of the membership, according to a news release.

Black Hills Energy, a utility that provides power to Cheyenne homes and businesses, has no plans to offer broadband service, said Norm Long, community affairs manager for the 

company.

"It is not a core business of Black Hills Energy," Long said.

To go directly to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle's website, click here.

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