LinkWYOMING provides internet access
In 2009, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). This piece of legislation provided funding for a plethora of economic recovery and technology programs across the nation. ARRA allowed for funding to be allocated to broadband infrastructure development and adoption programs.
Wyoming was initially awarded approximately $1.8 million and partnered with various organizations to help rural Wyomingites obtain access to broadband internet and to map where it was still needed.
“LinkWYOMING works to map where residents have broadband access, why they do or do not have access to the internet, and how we can get people to adopt this program,” says Troy Babbitt, broadband enterprise architect for Wyoming and LinkWYOMING partner.
Babbitt says that with increased internet access residents can jumpstart a home business, increase their access to educational and health care outlets, and view weather data pertinent to crops and livestock.
“My father is a retired rancher,” he continues, “and although he no longer runs cattle, he enjoys being able to stay up-to-date on prices by watching live video streams from the sale barns.”
The fact that Wyoming is a very rural state is one of the challenges LinkWYOMING faces, according to Babbitt.
“Internet service providers are looking at the bottom line and are looking at the feasibility of making a return on their investment when they considering providing service to that area,” he explains.
However, rural location does not stop residents from being able to access the internet. Although LinkWYOMING does not provide internet access to rural residents, it takes steps to help residents get connected.
“When someone in a rural area contacts us about getting connected to the internet, we first look at the service providers that cover that area,” Babbitt explains. “There are many options, and we are always looking for incentives to bring better broadband internet to Wyoming residents.
“In many places, the internet is available on copper phone lines offering digital subscriber line (DSL) service. Fixed or mobile wireless is usually another option,” he continues. “We would try to get the rural resident in contact with a wireless service provider, which could include getting a family fixed internet signal where a dish is mounted on the home.”
Babbitt says that access to internet will improve the quality of life of Wyomingites.
“It really becomes a quality of life issue,” he explains. “I see so many benefits to having internet, such as telecommunications and teleconferencing, and now data, video and voice are all combined on the same internet infrastructure to provide information.”
“Having access to the internet really shortens the communication distance in Wyoming and allows users to have many more options in their life,” he adds.
Partnering for access
“Governor Matt Mead understands how important it is for residents to have access to broadband internet,” Babbitt says. “He wants to make information technology (IT) the fourth largest industry in the state and is partnering with service providers to make that happen. He is discussing opening interstate corridors for service providers to help connect people to the internet.”
Others are partnering with Governor Mead to help make LinkWYOMING a success.
“The money was originally awarded to EdLab, a non-profit group formerly known as the Puget Sound Center for Teaching and Learning Technology, who partnered with the state and that is where LinkWYOMING came from,” explains Babbitt. “CostQuest is doing all of the mapping for this project. Their role is to work with state service providers and request coverage maps to determine coverage areas and speed.”
Babbitt says that this is a quarterly process with 60 providers participating.
Another partner called VisionTech 360 was instrumental in the beginning of the grant for conducting surveys and compiling reports. According to Babbitt, they did all of the regional planning and formed groups in different sectors to vocalize the needs of that area.
Wyoming Survey Analysis Center in Laramie is working to wrap up the grant and see it to the close by putting together reports on the findings.
“I can’t say enough about the Wyoming Business Council,” Babbitt continues. “They work hard to attract business to Wyoming. Big data centers find Wyoming attractive, and broadband is the next necessary utility needed to attract those kinds of businesses in different parts of the state.”
“We want to keep continually upgrading the existing businesses in Wyoming, but we also want to attract new businesses,” he adds.