By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
A Wyoming broadband provider will be one of many across the nation that will soon begin providing Internet access at a reduced cost for low-income residents due to a move by President Joe Biden’s administration.
On Monday, the White House announced that the Biden administration will partner with internet providers to reduce the cost of high-speed internet plans for low-income Americans. Under the “Affordable Connectivity Program,” eligible residents will see the cost of internet service providing speeds of at least 100 megabits per second reduced by $30 per month.
An estimated 48 million Americans will qualify, but it was unclear how many Wyoming residents will qualify for the program.
Gillette-based Visionary Broadband will be one of the internet service providers to reduce its fees under the plan, as it has been working on the Affordable Connectivity Program since last year, according to company spokeswoman Stacie McDonald.
“It’s exciting to see a program emerge in response to COVID which offers a meaningful discount to eligible participants,” McDonald said. “The program is managed through the (Federal Communications Commission) and interested persons can visit the site to assess their eligibility and sign up. Once they are awarded the benefit, the offset cost shows as a credit on their bill, in this instance $30.”
Americans will soon be able to visit www.getinternet.gov to determine their eligibility and sign up for the program. People who receive certain benefits, such as the Pell Grant, Medicaid or SNAP, may qualify.
Other internet providers, such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon, have also committed to the program.
McDonald did note that since internet service capabilities look different in rural settings, every internet user will not necessarily have the ability to get connected at the 100 megabits per second speed.
“While ideal, it just doesn’t exist for every household, and not just in Wyoming,” she said. “Availability of technology as well as where a home is located impact speed offerings. Landscape and terrain add another layer to the mixture, such as being blocked from a signal by a tree or hill. Rurally, while a tower in the area may offer 100Mbps service, a family’s distance to that tower may only allow for 50Mbps.”
While the speeds are increasing from the previous federal requirement of 25 megabits per second, the change will not affect everyone immediately. While ACP will address some of these issues, topography and mileage will still have an impact on some families, McDonald said.
She said that while the ACP was a great idea in theory, it was a bit “out of touch” for rural providers serving rural customers.
“For the ‘big box providers’, who normally serve inside a city or town, this probably works for them,” McDonald said. “For rural providers in rural areas, it’s problematic, due to speed issues I mentioned above and the cost offset for a lesser volume. One concern could be that this might prevent some of the potential builds to areas, especially with future proof fiber, since the economic business case for that area will have shifted.”