CHEYENNE — More than 1,000 Internet users in central and southern Wyoming will soon see a jump in their Internet speeds, thanks to an $11.4 million federal loan announced Monday.
Dubois Telephone Exchange will use the money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Community Connect program to build and improve fiber optic cable lines to customers in Dubois and Baggs, as well as rural customers in Fremont County, the Little Snake River Valley, and on the Wind River Indian Reservation.
In all, the USDA announced $103 million in grants and loans to telecommunications companies in 16 states to help expand broadband Internet access to those areas of rural America that haven’t been reached by the high-speed service or are underserved.
Policymakers, public interest groups and telecom companies are seeking to bridge the digital divide by reaching even the most remote pockets of the U.S. with broadband internet, hoping to improve economic and educational opportunities there.
Dubois Telephone Exchange General Manager Mike Kenney said his company will use the loan to remove old, outdated copper cables to about 1,100 residences and businesses and replace them with fiber optic cable, which can deliver more information at a faster rate.
Part of the loan will also be used to improve infrastructure and build two new fiber optic cables between Jeffrey City and Wamsutter and Baggs and Craig, Colorado.
Baggs and Jeffrey City, Kenney said, currently rely on a single fiber optic cable for Internet, meaning that if that cable somehow goes down, area residents would have no alternative way to get online.
The loan is expected to create 100 jobs and save up to 150 others, according to a USDA media release. Under the terms of the loans, DTE has to finish the projects within five years, Kenney said.
The new cables and improvements, Kenney said, are being built in anticipation of a new fiber optic line built by Freedom-based Silver Star Communications that will bring broadband service to about a dozen counties in western Wyoming.
Kenney said the improvements will bring economic benefits to the entire area, as businesses and individuals increasingly require fast, reliable Internet service.
“They are demanding more and more, greater broadband speeds for home-grown businesses or whatever they do out there in rural America,” Kenney said. “The only way that we can get faster speeds to them is not with existing copper and existing digital technology, but to go to the next generation of broadband.”
Without the loan, Kenney said, DTE would likely need 10-15 years to raise the money to begin work on the projects.
The need for improved broadband access in rural areas isn’t just a Wyoming problem, but a nationwide concern, said Jonathan Adelstein, the agriculture department’s rural utilities service administrator.
“There’s a big gap that remains between rural and urban areas because it’s just hard to make a business case in rural areas,” Adelstein said in a conference call with reporters on Monday. “Rural areas’ future depends upon access to broadband and we’re not where we need to be today.”
The states that will benefit from the funding are: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
As many as one in 10 Americans can’t get Internet connections fast enough to engage in such common online activities as watching video or teleconferencing, and two-thirds of schools have broadband connections that are too slow to meet their needs, the Commerce Department reported earlier this year.
Last year, the Federal Communications Commission released a national broadband plan that set a goal of hooking up 100 million U.S. households to broadband connections of 100 megabits per second by 2020. That’s at least 20 times faster than many existing home connections.