Gov. Mead wants $16M for Wyoming broadband expansion

A CenturyLink employee works on communications equipment outside a school campus in Sheridan County. Since June of 2013, Phase I of the Wyoming Broadband Initiative has increased data speeds at public schools by an average of 700 percent across the state. (Courtesy Deer Run Graphics/Stan Woinoski  — click to enlarge)

A CenturyLink employee works on a terminal box outside the Woodland Park Elementary School in Sheridan County. Since June of 2013, Phase I of the Wyoming Broadband Initiative has increased data speeds at public schools by an average of 700 percent across the state. Phase II would build a new unified state network and create incentives for service providers to increase data speeds in the private sector. (Courtesy Deer Run Graphics/Stan Woinoski — click to enlarge)

By Gregory Nickerson
— November 12, 2013

Gov. Matt Mead has pledged his support of using the state’s buying power to increase broadband access across the state. At the Wyoming Broadband Summit on October 29th, he made the case for improving state government’s Internet backbone in hopes of spurring communications companies to invest in upgraded Internet capacity for the private sector.

“Access to the Internet is a great benefit for a rural state like Wyoming,” Mead said. “This is our transcontinental railroad, our interstate highway system.”

Broadband uses technology like fiber-optic cable, copper wire, wireless towers, and satellites to transmit multiple streams of data on separate spectrums at the same time, thereby increasing speeds for multiple users.

Phase I of the Wyoming Broadband Initiative has been in progress since June of 2013, when the state began upgrading its Wyoming Equality Network that serves 48 school districts and many state offices. The addition of equipment in schools across the state has boosted speeds from as low as 3 megabytes per second to 100MB/s, or an average of 700 percent.

Wyoming Broadband Initiative timeline

A timeline showing the progress of the Wyoming Broadband Initiative. (Enterprise Technology Services — click to enlarge)

This expansion in capacity hasn’t required additional spending, according to Troy Babbitt, the broadband enterprise architect for the state’s Department of Enterprise Technology Services (ETS). Instead, the improvements are paid for using cost savings from negotiating individual leasing agreements with local service providers.

Previously, the state’s Wyoming Equality Network (WEN) had contracted through a single provider for the whole state: CenturyLink. That vendor then had to subcontract other local providers to operate in areas where it did not own the fiber-optic, copper, or wireless infrastructure. The communications infrastructure in Wyoming is divided into many separate districts owned by different providers.

Under a new arrangement, the state will be able to contract directly with local vendors to carry Wyoming Equality Network traffic, which is meant to stimulate upgrades to local infrastructure. “We want to get more competition going and get the best bang for the buck for all of the taxpayers,” Babbitt said in an interview with WyoFile.

The unified network

Gov. Mead said he supports spending $15.7 million on a new decentralized network for schools and state agencies, provided Wyoming has enough revenue in the upcoming budget session to make the one-time expenditure. (The most recent revenue reports showed the state received about $60 million in unexpected revenue in its General Fund, plus about $90 million in the Strategic Investment Projects Account, which is meant for one-time spending. See this Capitol Beat article for more.)

“This session, I am going to be asking the legislature for a unified network,” Mead said. “This will allow one place to connect with another place without going through Cheyenne.”

As an example, Mead said if a teacher in Cody wants to send a message to a colleague in nearby Powell, that data makes a round trip through a Wyoming Equality Network router housed in a state office building in Cheyenne. That situation creates a “single point of failure” where a problem with the equipment in Cheyenne can cause an outage across the whole network.

A map showing the seven hub cities that will host the core routers for the upgraded Wyoming Equality Network. (Courtesy Enterprise Technology Services. — click to enlarge)

A map showing the seven hub cities that will host the core routers for the upgraded Wyoming Equality Network. Click here for a report on the Wyoming Broadband Initiative. (Courtesy Enterprise Technology Services. — click to enlarge)

The solution is to create a “unified network” with redundant routers at hubs that can tolerate local outages by re-routing data traffic. To that end, Enterprise Technology Services has proposed installing high-capacity “core routers” in seven state-owned locations in Cheyenne, Casper, Sheridan, Basin, Riverton, Jackson and Rock Springs.

Those core routers, each the size of a server rack, would have a 100 gigabyte capacity that can be upgraded to higher speeds. As it is, 100GB speeds allow all the data held on a typical desktop hard drive to move through the router in a matter of seconds. Put another way, 100 GB is equal to 102,400 MB, or the data held on 21 DVD discs.

“That’s just mind blowing. I’m not sure of any other states that have this aggressive of a design,” Babbitt said.

The seven core routers would create a network with two large loops in the state, allowing multiple ways for web traffic to flow between school districts, community colleges, and state agencies.

“When completed, we can carry traffic out from each location and power down in Cheyenne and nobody in the schools will see the difference,” ETS chief information officer Flint Waters told attendees at the broadband conference.

The core routers would serve as hubs for spokes extending high-speed service to 23 additional communities, which will in turn gather data from lines going out to public schools and state agency offices. The 23 communities would have switching equipment in the 1 GB to 10 GB range.

Importantly, the upgraded routers would depend on sending traffic over leased broadband lines owned by for-profit internet providers like AT&T, CenturyLink, ACT, and other carriers.

“We want to encourage private enhancement in broadband infrastructure without competition from the state,” said Waters. “The unified network is not about the state bypassing industry or building its own fiber.”

The faster speeds desired by the state-owned routers would give local service providers the guaranteed customers and revenue needed to invest in their own upgrades to local routers and infrastructure. Those improvements in service speed would then be available to benefit private individuals and businesses in the area.

“The state will be the anchor tenant,” Babbitt said. “Based on the state’s purchasing power asking for 100 MB line, [providers] will be able to afford upgrades of equipment at their central office, and they will be able to offer customers faster speeds because of that new hardware.” The upgrades to local service providers would mostly often happen in the nondescript windowless buildings in Wyoming communities that house equipment for Internet providers.

An additional aspect of the Wyoming Broadband Initiative involves getting the state ready for Internet Protocol version 6, or IPv6. That’s the new addressing system that will replace IPv4, which has nearly run out of its 4.3 billion website addressees, which are akin to zip codes in physical mail delivery. In essence, the Internet will be moving from a set of zip codes that look like this 172.16.254.1 to codes with eight groups of four digits that would look like this 2001:0db8:85a3:0042:1000:8a2e:0370:7334. The entire Internet will be shifting to this system, and Wyoming’s proposed unified network will accommodate the new format.

Ultimately, expanding Wyoming’s broadband capacity is aimed at the goal of economic development, and creating new businesses that will help retain young people in Wyoming. Presenters at the Broadband Conference argued that hospitals, colleges, traditional businesses, and Wyoming startups like Eleutian Technology and PitchEngine all benefit from access to high speed broadband.

“The leading industries in Wyoming — energy, tourism and agriculture — form a strong base and provide many employment options, but if we can grow the technology sector we create another choice for our kids,” Gov. Mead said. “They can launch a business online on their own, or work remotely for a large international company. It’s all about access.”

Visit the LinkWyoming website for more information about the state of broadband in Wyoming, and to see maps of coverage in your area.

Gov. Mead’s address at the Wyoming Broadband Conference

Discussion of broadband begins at 29:00.

— Gregory Nickerson is the government and policy reporter for WyoFile. He writes the Capitol Beat blog. Contact him at greg@wyofile.com. Follow him on twitter @GregNickersonWY
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Published on November 12, 2013

  • Colleen Douglas

    having a cell phone, computer and television is nice.
    But having water, sewer and electricity would be great!
    Many people in Wyoming don’t have these basics.
    Maybe $16 Million should be spent on the utilities.
    look at all the wind power Wyoming is providing for other
    states, but not for their own residents who have no electricity.

  • DeweyV

    JEOL, et al – I’ll condense my argument to this : am not willing to tolerate my state investing significant public money in a vital but unregulated private industry that will turn right around and jack the consumer with high prices and onesided tiered service, just because they can . And they do.

    Broadband has now risen to the level of an essential public service. And all that goes with that . When has deregulation ever worked in the interests of the public ? I cannot think of a single positive instance in a major industry. The promise of increased competition lowering prices and increasing quality of service in a free market setting seldom if ever come true.

  • WYO GIRL

    This is great! I think our Governor is doing a good job and I love his forward thinking. Another attraction to our great state would be if our abundant natural gas was available to all incorporated cities and towns in Wyoming.

  • Joel

    Dewey V,

    How is it that a heavily regulated ISP system will get you faster internet? And why do you think some company should be forced to subsidize your services?

    Mead’s plan to backstop private investment in increased capacity is not bad.

    I used to connect to the internet with a 24kbps modem. It was slow, but it got the job done. I am 6 miles from Lander with “up to” 4 Mbps from Wyoming.com, and I have installed a private wireless bridge to bring a 20Mbps signal from town. This signal originates with Charter, formerly Optima, formerly Bresnan.

    I have tried Hughes and Direcway satellite internet – truly horrible. But speeds keep increasing, and the technology keeps changing. The push for more capacity now is coming from streaming, and from gaming. The internet is the new cable TV.

    Is entertainment a necessity for life that justifies state regulation? Isn’t the regulation of cable TV and telephone providers what is keeping them from providing internet? It is a waste that existing copper lines aren’t being used for internet, and it is regulation that is blocking innovation.

    Be careful asking for strong regulation of a rapidly evolving technology. You may get what you ask for, and be stuck with it.

  • DeweyV

    GREG …$ 16 million is mere petty cash towards what Wyoming’s telecom upgrade needs. All that geography and low consumer population…

    If I was mistaken about the State not actually laying the cable, the question becomes, is the state providing a telecom carrot and stick instead ?

    Way back when c.1999 (?) USWest ( before it was Qwest and Century-Link ) got the State to pay $ 27 million to do a Stone Age cable link between the community colleges and some of the cities and town’s school systems. This was the genesis of Wyoming Equality Network. It was and is arcane. But I do have to say that US West would have never done it on their own, not when it cost something like $ 27,000 to lay a mile of fiber optic. Wyoming has too many miles and too few phone jacks to make it a viable moneymaker without a little ” help “.

    It was also pure Tom Sawyer broadband economics. Give me a dollar and I’ll let you help paint my fence.

    The present proposal is much the same. WEN version 2.0

    Here’s something left out of my missive. My Century Link DSL service comes to me over existing phone lines, as does all DSL. The Phone signal is low frequency and easily isolated from the high freq digital signal on that same phone line. The incredibly exasperating part of this is the Phone service is completely totally regulated and has been since the dawn of time. Phone rates, services, obligations, everything has state PSC oversight. The paradox is the digital signal – the DSL service – is almost completely unregulated. No state oversight. No guarantee of service standards, obligations, or quality of service and accountability. Same wires, same company , same physical plant —but a Jekyll and Hyde creature , only one of which is answerable. And so it goes with all telecom broadband service in Wyoming…. it’s not regulated, but should be.

    People do not seem to recall that Wyoming deregulated its telecommunications in 1995 a full year before the federal deregulation occurred during the Clinton era in 1996 , which threw much of Wyoming’s oversight to the curb. The state law was actually better.

    Telecom law is some of the murkiest legal stuff out there. The communications companies have written most of it, and they make extreme use of it. The average consumer is held in thrall by the telecoms, and not just in Wyoming. It is far from a level playing field and an open framework from which to grow the service to the Wyoming consumer and business. The telecoms hold the cards and wrote the rules and deregulation serves them well, and the end user hardly at all.

    The $ 16 million that Mead wishes to invest with them is a check made out to one Thomas Sawyer.

  • http://www.wyofile.com Gregory Nickerson

    DeweyV,

    Thanks for reading and commenting. The proposed state investment in the Wyoming Equality Network will not directly pay for fiber-optic line, or build additional cell and data towers, as you seemed to write in your comment. The intent is for the state to become an anchor tenant that leases fiberoptic line and from the communications vendors. Any investments in fiber-optic line and towers will be made by private companies. See this report from Flint Waters of Enterprise Technology Services to the Select Committee on Legislative Technology and Process which I have excerpted below:

    Unified Network

    Simply put, the Unified Network project is about leveraging the State’s education and government broadband demands to promote the growth of capacity for all of Wyoming and enhance private investment in broadband infrastructure without fear of the State as competition. We are a customer working alongside communities and businesses to justify future infrastructure enhancements by private businesses with an opportunity for return on investment from the over 800 State sites.

    It is NOT about the State bypassing industry or building its own fiber. In the limited area where we needed fiber, we leased from our partners (Figure 1). In the limited area where the State owns fiber, we are discussing how to best leverage it without further builds. In the areas where we need connections between core cities, we will contract with our private partners to ride on their bandwidth.

    -Gregory Nickerson
    Reporter
    WyoFile.com

  • Patrick L

    This is awesome news, and I’m glad to see WyoFile covering this. I’m curious to know more about how this investment in an infrastructure primarily aimed at connecting state agencies ends up helping businesses like Pitch Engine and Elutian. Is the idea that a rising tide of infrastructure eventually lifts all boats? If so, I hope that both businesses and consumers can look forward to increased choice, lower prices and improved performance.

  • DeweyV

    Century-Link , the dinosaur of telecom, does not play well with the other telecoms and are in fact a ball and chain for broadband growth. They still think , and act, like The Phone Company of the 20th century at the digital consumer level. While they call themselves ” Century” link, their business model is firmly rooted in the last century , not this one.

    As a DSL user in Cody who has no other choice but to purchase a DSL service from Century-Kink just so I can access my preferred third party internet provider in Casper, I am paying the highest price for my internet and getting a lower tier of service. Century Link does NOT allow or encourage other providers to share their lines except at the lowest speeds and lowest service available, in order to ( barely ) comply with public service regulations. I am stuck at 7.5 Mbps service , which honestly is nowhere near the speed advertised even though I am located leff than 1/4 miles from the central phone exchange in Cody . What’s worse, my upload speeds are less than half what I was promised and pay for, and the ” latency” on my DSL is not good. Century-Link’s servers are sclerotic. It would be nice to have 12 Mbps DSL service or even faster, but the only way Century Link will allow me to do that is if I totally drop my own ISP. In other words, Century-Link is ANTI-Competitive. It’s take it or leave it with them , and I am in a telecom twilight zone.

    So my advice to my State government and Guv Matt on the topic of widening and accelerating the broadband environment in Wyoming is to rein in Century-Link and RE-regulate thhe telecom industry as a vital pubic utility, the same as it does with electricity, natural gas, and even water at the community consumer level, in the public interest .

    Unless Wyoming has some regulatory authority over the telecoms—both wired and wireless—it really cannot expect to grow the services in our sparsely populated immensely geographic state. The market itself will not support nor pay for the kinds of expansion that Wyoming expects and needs. The money is not there to incentivize the telecoms to step up and give Wyoming the quality and quantity of service the rest of America enjoys. So if my state is going to invest the millions in upfront money to lay the fiber optic and build the server bunkers, and loft a lot more cellphone and data towers, the State should expect some service authority in return. I hope Wyoming does invest , but in return , it needs assurances and some clout with the corporate telecoms. Modern internet service is a very clear case of where DE- regulation has worked against the public interest in every case. The whole of America has some of the worst internet and telecom service in the developed world but pays the corporations the highest prices for it. I see this Wyoming initiative as an opportunity to rectify that deplorable situation in our little corner of cyberspace.

    As much as this All Republican All the Time state government despises government regulations, a strong regulatory environment is precisely what is needed to assure Wyoming has quality and quantity broadband service in the future. It is in everybody’s interest – including the corporate telecoms – to regulate the industry.

    Start by telling Century-Link to play well with others. And come into the 21st century…

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