The National Telecommunications and Information Administration will host a workshop at Gillette on Tuesday on the $48 billion federal initiative to give everyone in the country access to the internet.
The idea is to give local governments money to expand broadband services in so-called “digital deserts” – places where high-speed, reliable internet is not available. The funding comes from the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package passed by Congress last year.
The initiative is still in its early stages, said Andy Berke, special representative for broadband at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
The workshop aims to give Wyoming leaders an idea of how to prepare for funding. It is a joint effort between the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, as well as the Association of Wyoming Municipalities and the Association of Wyoming County Commissioners.
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Before allocating money, the federal agency needs to figure out where the digital wastelands are, Berke said.
To that end, the Federal Communications Commission is building a map of local internet speeds across the country.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration will use this data to calculate the amount of the $48 million prize pool to give to each state. (States can expect at least $100 million for the project.)
All 50 states will have to submit a plan for how they plan to spend their allocations and have it approved by the federal agency.
It’s bound to be a complicated process, Berke said. There are many different ways for local governments to use their money – by developing Internet services through private partnerships, cooperatives or municipal broadband systems, for example.
“We want states to be able to develop the plan as quickly as possible,” Berke said.
Anyone interested in the one-day workshop, which begins at 8:30 a.m., can RSVP on their EventBrite page. Participants can attend in person at the CAM-PLEX Wyoming Center at Gillette or online.
Historically, Wyoming has lagged other states in internet coverage. About 22% of Wyoming residents do not have high-speed Internet access, according to data from the Federal Communications Commission.
With more people locked at home, some internet service providers have seen up to four times more requests for speed upgrades or new connections.
The trillion-dollar infrastructure package also includes $14 billion to subsidize internet connection for low-income households and $1.2 billion to the USDA for rural broadband.
In addition to broadband funding, Wyoming can expect to receive much more from the package, including:
- $1.8 billion to improve roads;
- $335 million to improve water infrastructure;
- $225 million for the replacement and repair of bridges;
- $72 million for airport infrastructure development;
- $27 million to expand the state’s electric vehicle network; and
- $14 million to protect against forest fires.
Congress recently passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, and experts say the move could help solve long-standing problems in Wyoming.