Window open for broadband funding
February 14, 2019
The window to secure federal funding that could be used to improve access to high-speed broadband across Crook County won’t be open for very long, said Russ Elliott of the Wyoming Broadband Advisory Committee (WBAC) last week. Elliott urged the county commission to work quickly to gather data about service levels across the county and determine where help might most be needed.
Elliott explained that a federal “Connect Fund” has been established specifically for rural areas in America. Around $600 million has been made available to encourage partnerships between public institutions such as counties and the private enterprises that could furnish broadband in their area – and it needs to be applied for, he said, within the next 60 days.
Elliott is the full time broadband manager for WBAC and has been working to improve broadband across Wyoming, he said, with his focus firmly on the most rural counties where internet access can be sparse.
“You guys are high on my radar, just so you know,” he said, noting that he has been working on other opportunities aside from the Connect Fund.
He has, for example, been in communication with several providers and is expecting to see activity from at least one of them in the northeast corner of the state within the next few months to bring fiber to areas such as Beulah and Aladdin that are “desperate for service”.
As a board, said Elliott, WBAC is not ok with “just being adequate” and has been pushing providers and legislators in an attempt to “set standards” rather than simply meet them. House Bill 247, for example, is a bid to redefine what “unserved” means in terms of broadband, while the appropriations bill currently includes $3 million in loan funding for counties where there are no towns with populations over 4000 and which are “underserved” with broadband.
WBAC would also like to see the home use standard for broadband become a speed of 25 mbps download and 3 mbps upload, rather than the current 10 mbps download and 1 mbps upload, Elliott said. This would need to be significantly higher along business corridors, he added.
He explained that “underserved” does not just refer to broadband speed, but also to WBAC’s push for quality, reliability and redundancy.
WBAC has also been watching for best practices when it comes to establishing good broadband service in rural areas. Elliott spoke of Sublette County, where the towns and county came together and organized themselves around a request for proposals, and suggested this could be a workable model in Crook County.
The next step here, he said, would be to entertain providers and tell them what we need. Sublette, he said, was very specific.
“It seems like it might be quite the task to undertake, but I think this is a critical time,” Elliott said, recommending that the commission make broadband a priority.
Gathering the info
The Connect Fund launched in December, said Elliott, but was delayed for one month due to the federal shutdown. WBAC is now working to understand exactly how those dollars will be allocated and to determine how Wyoming’s rural areas can be allocated their fair share.
“It’s specifically for very rural areas,” he said, explaining that the funds will be allocated on a points system that takes into account such things as population density. “We are ripe to have this money.”
According to Elliott, a third of the funding will be available as a grant, another third as a combination of grant and loan and the remainder as a low interest loan.
“At the state, we’re going to tackle mapping,” Elliott explained, demonstrating the connectivity test now available at wyobbmap.org. WBAC is hoping to secure samples of available broadband from rural communities that represent around ten to 15 percent of the local population.
Anyone can take this test, said Doug Wilson, Chairman of WBAC, by simply going to the site and following the guidelines. The information will be used to guide providers in identifying opportunity areas, so WBAC hopes as many people as possible will take it.
Wilson explained that the drive to improve broadband access comes from the fact that, not too long from now, communication across the world will be achieved using the internet. Somewhat ironically, Elliott’s video conference with the commission was interrupted due to poor internet connection.
It’s the future, Wilson wryly commented, but it’s not yet the present.
Submit Your Data
Is internet available at your home?
YES: Visit wyobbmap.org
NO: Look for a mailer from the county or send your name, address and a statement that broadband is not available to you to: Board of County Commissioners, Attn: Broadband Survey, PO Box 37, Sundance