By Renee Jean, business and tourism reporter
Spending up to $80 million to build out high-speed fiber-to-home networks in four Wyoming communities is just the tip of a multimillion-dollar spear aimed at piercing an internet veil for Western and Midwestern states.
Wyoming ranks near the bottom of the nation for overall internet coverage, speed, availability and costs, according to broadband.com, which lists the Cowboy State as 47th in the United States. Average internet speeds in the state also are slower than average at about 200 Mbps.
Bluepeak’s speed is 1 gigabyte per second, the company’s Cheyenne representative Travis French told Cowboy State Daily. It can range up to 10 gigabytes per second for businesses, according to the company’s website.
Fiber To Homes
Bluepeak’s fiber-to-home network is a potential game-changer for Wyoming and five other states on the company’s list for major broadband investment – Oklahoma, Missouri, South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota.
Along with high-speed Internet, Bluepeak also offers Internet-based television bundles, and French said it’s also considering potential cellphone services as well, although that is not yet part of any of its packages.
French was at a recent Cheyenne Business to Business Expo with a booth showing off the company’s plans. He told Cowboy State Daily he believes the high speeds alone are a big selling point for Bluepeak in Cheyenne, despite a relatively crowded field there.
Industry powerhouses Spectrum, Verizon and CenturyLink all offer combinations of internet, phone and television services.
“(Those companies) do offer higher speeds, depending on how much you want to pay,” French said. “But our minimum speed is 1 gigabit per second, and that’s upload and download speed. And that’s with everything included — installation, equipment and all that for just $55 a month. That price is also locked in for five years as well.”
Another selling point is fiber is more durable and reliable, French said.
“Because it is glass, it’s not going to degrade. It’s not prone to water damage or anything like that,” he said. “Fiber lines last much longer (than coaxial), and if there is trouble or anything, if a line breaks, we just switch it out.”
French estimates Bluepeak is connecting 10-15 homes or businesses a day in Cheyenne and has reached at least 1,000 subscribers. The company hopes to reach all of Cheyenne by 2024.
The timetable also calls for being in most, if not all, of Laramie, Casper and Sheridan by 2025, after which French said the company will begin looking at its next opportunities in Wyoming and other states.
Bluepeak’s investment is all private money, French said. Grants from federal funds like the American Rescue Plan Act are not paying for the buildout in any of the states or cities the company is actively building lines right now, he said.
Filling Service Gaps
Laramie Chamber Business Alliance President and CEO Brad Enzi told Cowboy State Daily that Wyoming is aware of gaps in the state’s broadband services. It’s something officials have been working hard to improve, recognizing that the next generation workforce is going to demand it.
“I think when COVID hit, what we saw in Wyoming were the gaps that we had,” he said. “Kids switched to online school and businesses went remote and everybody who didn’t know anything about Zoom now knows about Zoom.
“And we all found out what it looks like when Zoom doesn’t work well with the speed of the Internet and where our gaps in services are in the state.”
Enzi and other economic leaders in the state believe improving Wyoming’s high-speed connectivity and access is not just important for future economic development, but vital.
“If we don’t have it, you can be sure we won’t get them,” Enzi said about the potential to miss out on economic opportunities. “The more that we can, you know, capitalize on the ability to move remote workers to places that have higher speed internet in Wyoming, that will build our workforce and the depth and breadth of our technological expansion.
“Because the workforce will move here, you know. I think what we learned with COVID is nobody’s tethered to a location anymore.”
Wyoming’s sparse population has at times been a barrier to putting in more expensive fiber connections, Enzi said.
“When companies look at where can we deploy capital and get the largest return, yeah, Wyoming’s not going to always be the first answer,” he said. “So, you have to look at, you know, how we augment that, to have the services there to allow us to participate in the … next generation of the workforce.”
French, meanwhile, said Bluepeak is seeing economies of scale working for states like Wyoming.
“Fiber is very, very expensive,” he said. “But as the cost of producing fiber lines goes down, it’s more economically feasible for us to put it in smaller communities like Cheyenne, Casper and Sheridan as well.”
Enzi added he’s been impressed by the level of Bluepeak’s investment in Wyoming and other states.
“It’s staggering when you look at the rollout that they’re doing and the level,” he said. “I’ve had a crew in my driveway for the last four, five working days boring in the different lines and they’re still there today.
“It’s an incredible investment being done at the private level and in partnership with the state, so we’re excited about it. We think it will continue to provide opportunity in Wyoming, and I think it starts to mirror what we know about the changing workforce.”