Gov. Mead wants $16M for Wyoming broadband expansionBy 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.
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.
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 ConferenceDiscussion 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter @GregNickersonWY
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