LUSK – For the past few weeks the Lusk Herald has printed articles about what hasn’t or can’t be done in relation to local telecommunications. On Friday, February 8, an open meeting was held to discuss what is possible.
The Niobrara County Commissioners started the push towards broadband service a few years ago in a great part due the phone problems.
“It was an obsolete system that wasn’t good, even when it was new,” commissioner Pat Wade said.
In addition to being a health and safety concern for the county, inadequate phone service becomes a drain on county resources.
When efforts were exhausted through the Wyoming Public Service Commission, the commissioners realized the sparse population was not economically feasible for most companies to help. The next option was to attempt to get broadband services installed throughout the county in order to use VOIP systems for communication. In the beginning they tried to attract the attention of Visionary and Vistabeam, with limited success. The same issue of sparse population translating into economic sense continued to be the deal breaker. And then plan ‘C’ came into play.
The Niobrara County Commissioners have been working with the Wyoming Business Council Broadband Manager Russ Elliott. Elliott was hired this past June by the state’s economic development agency following the passage of Senate File 100. In addition to Elliott’s salary, the 2018 legislation earmarked money for expanding broadband access to “unserved” areas of the state as defined by those receiving under 10 megabits of download speed and grant funds to help develop infrastructure. Elliott started an internet service provider company in Colorado and New Mexico that expanded to 17,000 customers in 10 years. He accomplished this by delivering service to many rural reaches through creative partnerships, technologies and a unique focus on customer service.
In addition to hiring Elliott, the Business Council established the Broadband Advisory Council, which created a Broadband Enhancement Plan.
The plan not only addresses providing basic internet service throughout the state, their goal is for Wyoming to be the leader in broadband accessibility and to set the standards for other states to follow.
While funds and grants are available, there is a time limit. The clock is ticking and there is much to be done. Elliott believes he knows how to solve the problem, and he doesn’t have “a horse in the race” so he just wants to know who is going to help him get the job done.
If the barriers are of an economic nature, Elliott would like to approach that hurdle from a state side.
One suggestion Elliott had was to “coordinate the voice,” meaning to join forces with other counties facing the same issues. In this case, Niobrara, Goshen and Platte Counties. There is strength in numbers and with three counties on the eastern side of the state speaking with one voice that would bring more weight to the discussion.
While Elliott admits he doesn’t have all of the answers, yet, the energy is behind the movement.
What is needed is research as to what type of service is available; copper, fiber or DSL, to all areas of the towns and rural areas. Elliott is also is the process of a mapping project. The Federal Communications Commission works from a map of the country called the 477 Map. This map tells the FCC who is served and who is underserved in the United States. However, if one person is served on the census block, the whole block is considered covered. Elliott is mapping true speeds through a website, to the parcel. The “homework” he gave the citizens in Niobrara County is to perform a speed test through his website. This gives him quantifiable data to for the 477 Map. According to the latest census, Niobrara County has 2484 citizens. If even a portion of that number participates, it is valuable data that can be a moving force in becoming a served county as opposed to underserved or unserved.
For the State of Wyoming to better quantify the areas of need, they have built this tool that will measure connectivity at any location throughout the state. By taking the speed test the data-collection gives Elliott the information needed to determine your exact location and service levels. This data will be shared with providers throughout the state so they can see where Wyoming could use support and infrastructure. It only takes a few minutes to complete. To participate, go to wyobbmap.org. The instructions are user friendly.
For more information or questions contact one of the county commissioners or email Russ Elliott at r[email protected]