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Working in the fast-paced technical environment, and recognizing the critical role of telehealth, education and mobile broadband to diversifying the state’s economy, Wyoming updated its broadband enhancement plan just 10 months after it was created.
The new version of the plan went into effect July 1, after a public comment period and adoption by the Broadband Advisory Council and the Wyoming Business Council board of directors.
“The original plan got us a great start,” said Russ Elliott, the state’s Broadband Manager. “We’ve made significant and meaningful improvements already.”
To name just a few, Hulett now has improved redundancy, Saratoga has fiber and Guernsey is no longer operating with a patchwork of various connections costing the city $2,600 per month.
“However, in the world of broadband technology, there can be no standing still,” Elliott said. “The plan needed an update to clarify some definitions as well as provide additional details on the critical subjects of telehealth, education and mobile broadband.”
The updates include:
- The definition of “unserved” as speeds less than 25 megabits per second of download speed and three megabits per second of upload speed for residential customers. These are the same standards that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) uses. This change will make funding available to more Wyoming communities.
- The definition of “underserved” as areas where issues such as redundancy, quality of service, affordability and customer satisfaction need to be addressed in order to fulfill the Wyoming broadband program’s mission, vision or moonshot goal. For example, Torrington has fast broadband service but lacks the redundancy its businesses need to stay competitive.
- Directing $3 million from the original $10 million that was appropriated to the broadband program into the Business Ready Community (BRC) program for public-private partnership grants that would improve broadband coverage in rural areas. This move frees up a portion of the grant money for collaboration between communities and private providers; it will not result in government-owned infrastructure or services.
- Specific focus and language regarding telehealth and the important role of broadband enhancement in delivering those services, information and education. The Broadband Advisory Council recommends pursuing all possible funding opportunities for broadband enhancement in the healthcare field; working to ensure all healthcare facilities in the state have reliable, affordable, redundant and scalable broadband service; creating a sandbox environment in Wyoming for health technology by participating in pilot programs and studies; and developing public-private partnerships to increase telehealth services throughout the state, which would decrease costs, increase positive outcomes and reach vulnerable people.
- Several local and national stakeholders have gotten behind the movement to improve telehealth, including the Wyoming AARP. On a national and state level, the AARP has identified telehealth improvement as among its top priorities in 2019, citing its potential to help consumers more easily connect with healthcare providers, maintain their quality of life and remain in their homes and communities longer.
- Language that focuses on the importance of mobile broadband and the critical role it plays in connecting Wyoming citizens. Many residents say they are more concerned about the connectivity of their cell phones in the remote reaches of the state than they are about their home or business connections. Public-private partnerships will be critical to the development of this technology, as will coordination with stakeholders and regulating agencies. The updated language sets a goal of 100 percent mobile coverage statewide by 2023.
- Support for education efforts that equip and prepare all Wyoming children and citizens to live and work in today’s rapidly changing technological world, whether they are attending the University of Wyoming remotely, studying at one of the state’s community colleges or home-schooling in a remote region.
- A handful of other updates that ensure the Broadband Enhancement Plan is flexible, adaptable, agile and able to address the always-changing environment surrounding broadband capabilities on a local, national and global scale.
“The state’s broadband enhancement efforts go so far beyond the convenience of downloading a movie in a few seconds,” Elliott said. “Telehealth solutions can allow people to age at home and keep vulnerable people out of emergency rooms. Education options deliver an entire world of knowledge and opportunity to classrooms anywhere. Reliable mobile broadband connects everything, from a farmer running his center pivots in the field to a job-seeker waiting for a call or a teenager needing a safe ride home. It’s lives and livelihoods we’re impacting here, and it’s critical to the state that we do it right.”