It’s So Important
We always hear Wyomingites say it is OK for others to visit Wyoming, as long as they don’t stay and put down roots. Then we hear everyone in the state saying we need jobs to keep our youth from leaving.
To provide jobs for our youth and have Wyoming, especially rural Wyoming, stay competitive in our ever-changing world, we need a functioning broadband system across the state.
During the life of Gov. Mead’s ENDOW process, broadband was always in the conversation, but it wasn’t a priority until the Rural Council became a part of ENDOW. From the start, broadband was a top priority for the Rural Council. Other priorities include improving the University of Wyoming Ag College, new value-added ag products, improved rural health opportunities, more beef processing plants and Wyoming branded meat and crop products.
Some of the executive committee of ENDOW didn’t want broadband out front as they thought it may hinder companies from coming to our state. The rural council disagreed and rightly so, as a large part of rural Wyoming has poor or no broadband, also known as internet or cell service.
As rural Wyoming makes up about half of Wyoming’s population, the rural council then changed the term broadband to “Rural connectivity” and it remained the top goal for the rural council.
Last winter, the Legislature earmarked $10 million for rural broadband purposes and the Wyoming Business Council hired someone to work in state broadband purposes, thanks to Gov. Gordon and others.
Last week, the Wyoming Rural Broadband Summit was held in Casper, sponsored by the USDA Wyoming Rural Development and the Wyoming Business Council. Attendees included Gov. Gordon, Wyoming Legislature, broadband providers, rural community leaders and national leaders and experts in the field. Most all agreed rural broadband in Wyoming was doable.
The theme of the conference was in order for rural Wyoming to be prosperous and keep its youth, there has to be a broadband system in place. There are some of us dating ourselves, as we remember in the early 1950s, when electric power lines came to our rural areas, farms and ranches. Those local rural electric cooperatives with low interest government loans, changed our lives, the same holds true with what rural broadband will do.
At the summit, we heard how a national rural broadband system would add $47 billion to the U.S. economy. If Wyoming had a rural broadband system and was digitally inclusive, only good would happen.
A speaker said, “We need to forget industrial age thinking and provide the opportunities for our youth to have the needed digital skills.”
As with electricity in the 1950s, it will take a coordinated effort of both private and government.
We have to recognize in a rural state like Wyoming, if providing rural broadband was profitable, the current providers would already be establishing rural broadband. But, as with other rural services, it is just not profitable. However, the payoff from a sustainable rural economy will keep our youth here, provide small businesses a future and give others the stable opportunity to live and work in a rural area. Wyoming can do this, we already have in some areas.