Wyoming must be wired.
Just as roads crisscross the state, creating valuable corridors for commerce and tourism, the state's wire and communication lines are vital to the future of the state's economy.
That's why we ask that state lawmakers look favorably on a recent request by the Wyoming Telecommunications Association. The group wants the Legislature to OK a sales and use tax exemption, essentially a tax loophole, for the broadband industry on things such as fiber optics, coaxial cabling and wireless towers.
The association estimates the breaks would save the industry -- and potentially cost state coffers -- $2.4 million a year. Yet the tax break is meant to spur roll-out of more a broader, stronger Internet network across the state -- to fill in gaps and accelerate speeds. That's development worth encouraging.
There are encouraging signs on the broadband front. Gov. Matt Mead, who has called broadband an equalizer for small towns in terms of remote-access medicine and education and telecommuting, has been a champion of wiring the state. And lawmakers have signed on, voting to approve millions in the most recent state budget to expand Wyoming's broadband backbones, a move we wholeheartedly supported.
But there's still a long way to go. A 2013 federal report indicated that in the previous year, 35.4 percent of rural areas in Wyoming didn't have broadband access, and less than half -- 44 percent -- had what would be considered a strong broadband capability.
Lawmakers at a recent Joint Revenue Interim Committee hearing did express concern about such exemptions, since they're seldom examined to see if they pay off for taxpayers. We sympathize with that concern. But in terms of Internet capability, it's quite possible to find out if companies are using the money saved through the tax exemption to build out Wyoming's broadband.
The state Public Service Commission, which already has expertise dealing with such companies, might be the right body to ensure broadband companies are reinvesting tax savings into infrastructure.
It’s absolutely critical Wyoming get an expanded broadband infrastructure, and with some accountability for the savings, we expect a tax exemption will strengthen and speed the work.