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The U.S. Treasury has awarded five companies in Wyoming funds for broadband expansion

A cable worker in a lift working on power lines.
Visionary Broadband
A worker for Visionary Broadband examining lines.

Many state and federal agencies have contributed to the expansion of broadband in Wyoming, and now the U.S. Treasury is lending a hand. Through a program called the Capital Project Funds, five companies in the state were chosen to receive federal funding.

One of those companies is Visionary Broadband. They’ll be receiving $18 million from the Capital Project Fund. However, Brain Worthen, CEO of Visionary Broadband, said that these funds are different from prior programs meant to assist communication companies.

“The Capital Projects Fund, which is operated by the U.S. Treasury, is not normally a broadband funding entity,” said Worthen. “The U.S. Treasury decided [they’re] gonna do something different. And so they funded any area [that] did not have 100 megabytes download by 20 uploads. Why that's important is certain technologies are not capable of over 20 megabytes uploads, such as certain wireless technologies and certain cable technology.”

Prior to these funds, parts of Wyoming may have had internet, but it would have been limited to the cheapest form of connection available. The treasury funds allow companies like Visionary to lay fiber to these underserved or unserved areas (places without internet access or places with internet access that are not up to Federal Communications Commission speed definitions ). Fiber meets those standards and more, as fiber-optic cables are capable of transferring up to 10-GigaBytes a second. While towers and cables could provide internet access to more rural areas, only fiber would guarantee FCC speed standards.

For Visionary Broadband, this means conducting extensive fiber projects that will extend high speed internet access to homes and businesses outside of major communities. That includes the Freedom Hills area in Gillette, rural parts of Wright, and homes/businesses northwest of Highway-85 near Torrington.

Each of these projects cost around $1 million, with some coming in at $3 million. Laying fiber in rural Wyoming is hard, due to the harsh winters and the state's vast, undeveloped, frontier land. However, Worthen said the hardest part is less about construction and more about conversation.

“Broadband development is facing the same challenges in Wyoming as oil and gas; permitting, access, that kind of thing. When there's support, it works. When there's a lack of support, you really have to spend the time to build that relationship. Where people strive to understand what you're trying to do and trying to accomplish,” said Worthen.

Visionary has had success in this area of broadband build out. Worthen recalls a project in 2022, in which they built some 55 towers and almost 60 miles of fiber in 120 days. This isn’t always the case, but Worthen said Wyoming’s devotion to expanding broadband is a massive help.

“That is the intent of Wyoming to [provide internet access] for as many addresses as possible. And that's been made clear in discussions I've had with the state and with the Wyoming Business Council. It is a daunting effort,” said Worthen.

Worthen said he’s confident that it’s possible to bring high-speed access to everyone in Wyoming who wants it. The technology exists to provide acess everywhere, from urban Cheyenne to rural Glendo. His only concern is some government programs not keeping up with a changing landscape.

“I do know that the technologies exist out there to get the speeds available to nearly everyone in Wyoming…[But] a lot of these programs don't ever factor in changes within the community, new addresses created or communities downsizing as their economies changes.” said Worthen.

One-hundred percent completion is still a long-ways away. But Visionary Broadband is expected to be a part of the process throughout this endeavor. They recently acquired another telecommunications company called Aristata Communications. While Aristata’s primary service areas were in Colorado, Worthen said the addition of Aristata's experience, resources, and personnel will ultimately help to take on more projects in Wyoming.

“In the state of Wyoming, with less than 600,000 people, if you divide that by three, that's 200,000 homes,” said Worthen.“ There's a limited number of customers you can build [out to] in an area and we've had to be creative and look outside the state to other population centers that can help with our business and building our staff. And so we actually see it as the opposite. It's not going to be detrimental. It's going to be additional.”

Jordan Uplinger was born in NJ but has traveled since 2013 for academic study and work in Oklahoma, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. He gained experience in a multitude of areas, including general aviation, video editing, and political science. In 2021, Jordan's travels brought him to find work with the Wyoming Conservation Corps as a member of Americorps. After a season with WCC, Jordan continued his Americorps service with the local non-profit, Feeding Laramie Valley. His deep interest in the national discourse on class, identity, American politics and the state of material conditions globally has led him to his current internship with Wyoming Public Radio and NPR.
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