Broadband Sees Investment During 2022 Budget Session

Posted on 07/06/22 by Tom Lacock

Albert Sommers

While the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) did bring about $1.1 billion into the Cowboy State, the Legislature chose not to invest as much money as AARP Wyoming had hoped into improving broadband and high speed internet in Wyoming.

The State will invest $136 million of ARPA dollars to the broadband effort over the next two years, while another $125 million of federal infrastructure grant dollars will be spent in 2023 and after. Much of the ARPA monies will allow for grants to internet service providers willing to install broadband to areas of the state that are currently considered “unserved,” and under-served,” by federal standards. Another smaller slice of the ARPA funding will go towards making public internet available in areas such as schools and libraries.

“The ARPA funding that was appropriated by the Legislature was appreciated, but there are still large areas of the state that are unserved and under-served,” says AARP State Director Sam Shumway. “We know high-speed internet helps older Americans avoid isolation from family and friends and helps them remain independent as they age. That is very important to our members.”

Currently, The State of Wyoming ranks 46th in the nation in Broadbandnow.com’s list of state internet accessibility and speed. BroadbandNow is considered the industry standard for third party comparison of state internet accessibility. Wyoming’s broadband speeds are faster than only Montana, California, Iowa, Maine, and South Dakota.

According to AARP data, Wyoming ranks second in the nation for the number of residents aged 65 and over living in nonmetropolitan areas, with 70.4 percent of Wyomingites living in rural areas. A study by Connected Nation finds that 19 percent of rural residents say they do not subscribe to broadband because it is not available in their area. Sublette County Rep Albert Sommers was leading the way for more funding, bringing at least one amendment and suggesting others for adding more of a broadband spend from state ARPA dollars.

“High speed, reliable, affordable broadband is essential for citizens to remain engaged with businesses, friends, children, and grandchildren,” Sommers says. “Broadband is an essential service, just like phone service was in the last century. Wyoming must do all it can to ensure every corner of this state is covered.”

Sommers did have some support for his efforts to add more ARPA money to the broadband effort. In all, nearly a full quarter of the House of Representatives actually spoke on the subject of additional broadband money either in support or opposition after Sommers brought his amendment.

Among those who supported the amendments with floor speeches included Bill Henderson (R-Laramie County); Mike Yin (D-Teton) Jared Olsen (R-Laramie County); Jim Roscoe (R-Teton), and Shelly Duncan (R-Goshen County), who offered an exceptionally impassioned plea.

“The majority of our state is rural. A lot of these people who are complaining too much (about more money being spent on broadband), are living in a city,” Duncan told the House. “I live in a town of 525 people. We don’t have service….We must think and provide for our communities. This is a way to link communities together.”

Roscoe and Yin equated broadband installation today to the government’s putting electrical service into rural areas in the 1930’s and 40’s.

“This is as important as the rural electrification of the United States,” adds Roscoe.

“We are helping our communities get access to the utility of the 21st Century,” Yin adds.

Sommers points out other states of similar size to Wyoming, are spending more ARPA funding on broadband internet. He also suggested the funding that will be available for broadband installation wouldn’t be available in time for new broadband installation for this summer. During his floor speech in favor of increased funding for broadband, Sommers points out the Governor’s request for ARPA funding suggested there are between 100,000-130,000 Wyoming residents without access to the internet.

As you would imagine, the amendment which failed had a number of detractors. Clarence Styvar (R-Laramie County) fought back against spending more on broadband, suggesting expansion should be done by private industry, using private funds. Marshall Burt (R-Sweetwater) had concerns about inflation and said it was “not the government’s role to make people feel good and comfortable,” by helping citizens get access to faster internet. Other legislators suggested a concern that they didn’t understand “when is enough money enough for broadband in Wyoming?”

Lander Rep. and Vice Chair of the House Appropriations Committee Lloyd Larsen complimented his colleague, Sommers, on his devotion to helping Wyomingites’ get faster and more reliable internet service. However, he thought the money the state will spend on broadband was appropriate.

“When history reflects back and looks at how the state finally turned the corner and put broadband in, they can’t help but have the good sponsor of this amendment’s name in there. He has been very focused and thank goodness he has when it comes to getting broadband to our schools and employers. My hat is off to him.”

“As we considered broadband in the scope of things… We thought the amount we had in there was appropriate when you based it proportionate to the needs of the rest of the state. Our investment in broadband is pretty significant.”

This story is provided by AARP Wyoming. Visit the AARP Wyoming page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.

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