Broadband is Vital to Growth

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Economic development agencies have spent recent decades developing infrastructure needed to attract companies to their area. Site selectors routinely eliminate an area due to inadequate electric, gas, water, and transportation infrastructure. And now high speed internet access is becoming one of the most important boxes those selectors want to check off. Quickly advancing technology has made the availability and quality of broadband a top consideration.

“Various econometric analyses have demonstrated a positive correlation between broadband and economic growth,” said Matt McQuade, director of business development for Columbus2020 in a 2011 article for Site Selector Magazine. “Its importance in the site selection process will not diminish. With public and private investments in broadband infrastructure still surging, communities lagging behind will be placed in an ever more competitive disadvantage.”

Wyoming leadership also saw the value of broadband in economic development. For five years, the public has been invited to attend the Wyoming Governor’s Broadband Summit which brings together tech professionals from around the state to build relationships and share ideas.

The Wyoming Unified Network is a $15.8 million initiative that has, according to Wyoming Business Council, boosted capacity 4,000 percent and made the system more reliable. The State acted as an anchor tenant, paying regional internet service providers to run high-speed cables to schools and government agencies. This high tech step into each community makes it more affordable for providers to expand the service to the private sector. Broadband in our schools, agencies and private businesses improves economic development prospects in the short run, long run and far into the future.

In addition to WUN, private internet service providers worked to install high speed internet through the National Telecommunications & Information Administration’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) program. NTIA has been overseeing an investment of approximately $4 billion in projects throughout the United States to support the development of broadband infrastructure, particularly in rural areas. For instance, the Teton Broadband Project, a middle-mile fiber optic project completed in 2013, closed gaps and closed part of Wyoming’s “survivability ring.”

The latest announcement in broadband expansion comes from Mountain West Telephone which will be bringing fiber from their Chugwater location, tied into the I-25 fiber corridor, to Goshen County in 2017. Torrington will see immediate improvements this winter as fiber is brought in from Chugwater, along Highway 313 up U.S. Highway 85. The company plans to supply connection along U.S. Highway 26 from the state line through Lingle, Fort Laramie and then to connect back to 1-25 in Wheatland for a redundant route. Additional plans of continuing up U.S. Highway 85 through Jay Em into Niobrara County to Lusk are in the works.

Now that broadband service is in Wyoming’s communities, the Wyoming Business Council will continue efforts to:
•    Build awareness of the need for reliable, efficient, consistent and redundant broadband.
•    Advocate for broadband capacity, reliability and redundancy. This includes understanding business needs and regulatory barriers and challenges.
•    Connect clients and prospects with Wyoming telecommunications companies to help grow jobs and increase Wyoming’s telecommunications infrastructure.
•    Ensure private-sector solutions are exhausted before any alternative approaches are explored.

The investment in technology as Wyoming’s fourth largest industry has paid off with successful recruitment of companies such as Microsoft as well as expansion of local tech like Green House Data. But technology doesn’t stop. To remain competitive and continue to grow, Wyoming’s public sector must remain committed to the private sector. Economic developers must focus on providing current infrastructure and resources, freeing technology innovators to bring the future to Wyoming.

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