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Internet Is Expensive, Slow and Limited for Rural Wyoming

While the state is working to improve broadband connectivity across the state, many in rural areas of the state find themselves paying more for slower Internet speeds and without any options.

(TNS) — In homes with children, fighting over who gets to use the internet or who needs to stop their streams has become a common American experience over the last couple decades. It's an argument that Laramie County, Wyo., resident Jackie Fornstrom knows well, living with her husband and four teenage boys on their family farm a few miles outside Pine Bluffs.

But for her family, the problem was accelerated by slow Wi-Fi speeds that seemed even slower than what she was paying for. Until August, they used Range Telephone Communications' DSL internet through a landline phone for $80-$85 a month, but Fornstrom said that's just because it was the only option available.

"We do have friends in Cheyenne, and they're just shocked that we don't have the same options. We're really not that far away, but it's just a lot different when you get outside that little bubble," Fornstrom said.

Fortunately, the Fornstrom family was able to find a plan that worked for them through Visionary Communications — with 50 Mbps for around $60 a month. But still, not everyone has found a solution. Residents in rural areas across Wyoming have fewer options for high-speed internet providers, leaving some stuck with high-cost plans that sometimes don't cover their technology needs — gaming, streaming, video chats, online classes, remote work and all the other ways technology connects us in day-to-day life.

And while improvements in broadband connectivity have been seen in rural areas recently — with the help of the Wyoming Business Council's broadband manager and programs like Connect Wyoming — problems still persist, specifically high monthly bills for rural Wyoming residents.

An analysis from — a consumer comparison site that helps folks choose the best internet plans in their area — found that Wyoming residents pay more for each megabit per second than anywhere else in the country. (Megabits per second, or Mbps, is a measure of internet bandwidth. Broadband internet requires a minimum of 25 Mbps.)

According to the analysis, Wyomingites pay a rate of $7.84 per Mbps, while Rhode Island residents pay a rate of just 63 cents per Mbps. A number of factors play into that stark difference, but perhaps the biggest are the lack of internet infrastructure and the lack of incentive for internet providers to build out in rural America.

"Essentially, internet providers are looking for ways to get tons of subscribers with the minimum expense," staff researcher Tim Tincher said. "That's why they're prioritizing places with higher populations or areas that have higher economic value, as well, and so that's probably why we're seeing prioritization of urban versus rural."

Big name providers found in Cheyenne, like Spectrum and CenturyLink, can provide faster speeds at lower prices with the infrastructure they've put in place and continue to upgrade across the country, according to Bret Picciolo from Charter Communications. In December, Charter's Spectrum doubled its starting internet speed for customers, so Cheyenne residents can enjoy 200 Mbps, with the possibility for up to 400 Mbps.

Several miles away, the same is not true for the areas of eastern Laramie County located beyond most major corporations' coverage areas. A slew of regional providers offer whatever speeds and prices their infrastructure allows, but the more traditional forms of internet service like dial-up and DSL aren't as efficient as new developments, according to Tincher.

"Specifically, in these more rural environments, the infrastructure is a little bit older or dated. What we found is that fiber connections are the most efficient data and technology that we can get for internet, so naturally, states that have access to fiber internet more widely will have a cheaper per-megabit rate," Tincher said. "In states like Wyoming, where there's more DSL or wireless or satellite, that's where you'll see that uptick in price per megabit."

Still, more and more, internet service providers are working to bridge the connectivity gap, as internet technology evolves and as government agencies like the Federal Communications Commission aim to help them do so. Especially with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and the transition to remote work and school, the Wyoming Business Council approved $86 million in CARES Act funding in August to expand broadband infrastructure in largely disconnected parts of the state.

By providing a number of multi-million dollar grants to internet service providers, the hope is to allow Wyomingites to access tele-health, tele-education or remote work.

"This funding will help connect rural communities in Wyoming that may not have had the chance to get service otherwise," Gov. Mark Gordon said in a news release. "Now, the people in Wyoming's most rural communities will be able to access the essential services they need to cope with the effects of COVID-19, and to access the opportunities that high-speed internet provides for years to come."

At this point, those broadband grants won't fix the problem faced by every rural resident across Wyoming, but it does make a dent. Additionally, other private providers, including Viasat, have taken their own approach to help bridge the connectivity gap.

Viasat is one of the companies that connects folks in Pine Bluffs, Albin and Burns, but it uses satellite connections instead of dial-up or DSL. Vice President of Marketing Steven Mesnick said anyone who can see the sky is eligible for their internet services, which removes barriers of having to install expensive wiring in places that aren't profitable for larger companies.

"The difference with satellite is we spend a ton of money up front; we have $600 million satellites, we launch them into space on the back of a rocket, which is always kind of exciting, and then we don't have to worry anymore about the cost for every house," Mesnick said. "We make a large initial upfront investment so that everyone can benefit from it, while others are making an investment only when it makes sense for that individual neighborhood or household."

Currently, Viasat has two satellites in space, which unfortunately limits the amount of internet service they can provide. So while it does break down the barrier to access, the lowest-level plan is still $100 a month at full price due to the level of demand.

However, Mesnick said they plan to send three more satellites into space by the end of this year, with one to cover the Americas and provide more access, faster speeds and perhaps lower prices down the line to Wyomingites.

"Home broadband service is one of the fastest-growing parts of our business, which is primarily providing connectivity to those who have been left behind by the cable and the fiber, and oftentimes don't have many choices," Mesnick said.

(c)2021 Wyoming Tribune-Eagle (Cheyenne, Wyo.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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