CHEYENNE – With Wyoming ranked among the bottom of the US states for broadband access, Internet service provider Bluepeak is investing $ 70 million in local expansion to help close this gap.
The initiative brings the modern fiber-to-the-home network of businesses to communities across the state, which will improve Internet access and speed for more than 70,000 residents and businesses, according to a statement company press release. Construction in Cheyenne has already started and next year Bluepeak will innovate at Laramie, Casper and Sheridan.
“Fast and reliable broadband connectivity is an integral part of every community, regardless of its size, especially now,” Rich Fish, CEO of Bluepeak, said in the statement. “Wyoming is one of the fastest growing states, making carrier choice and access to a next-generation fiber-to-the-home network increasingly important for development. economic. “
Wyoming ranks 46th in the country for broadband access, according to BroadbandNow.
The digital divide in Wyoming has been of concern to state and local government officials, businesses, schools, and residents for many years, due to the fact that a significant portion of the population has little or no money. high speed internet access.
But the pandemic has reinforced the need for a reliable network.
“We’ve found that this is really critical over the past 18 months, and this Bluepeak investment is definitely going to help us do that,” said Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins.
The landscape of socialization, work, healthcare and education has changed in nature due to the push for virtual options. Instead of going to the office or taking a class in person, he said many people have turned to using Zoom and other technologies as a safer method in the interest of public health.
This can mean that those without access to broadband may experience social and economic inequalities and miss out on benefits that some people take for granted, according to Janna Farley, director of communications for the ACLU Wyoming.
“People without broadband access simply do not have access to equal opportunities in education, employment, banking and other important elements of social mobility,” she said. . “I think it was before the pandemic, and it’s even worse now.”
She also explained how communities with higher percentages of people of color, as well as rural populations, are more at risk of poor internet connections.
The Cowboy State is no exception to this rule. Nearly 47% of residents live in border areas of the state, which means 17 of 23 counties have fewer than six people per square mile, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.
Laramie County Commissioner Gunnar Malm said he agreed this could be the cause of the local digital divide as it is difficult for businesses to make a financial investment without knowing if there will be a significant return or a large number of broadband participants.
“They are driven by business considerations and profit,” he said. “And so it’s a huge expense, with limited return, in some cases simply because of our population density.”
But he and other officials said that shouldn’t deter companies from developing broadband infrastructure in regions with these characteristics. He sees investing in communities across the state as an opportunity to increase economic vitality and social freedom, especially since teleworking will play an even more important role in the future.
“It is essential to have access to as many citizens as possible not only to work from home, but also to learn from home,” he said. “High-speed Internet access allows people to enjoy the quality of life we have here in Wyoming, while working from anywhere in the world. “