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Internet

A local internet provider wants to increase internet speeds in Evansville and is seeking town officials’ approval to do so.

Casper-based telephone and internet provider Mountain West Telephone wants to broker a deal with the Town of Evansville to introduce fixed-wireless internet service. It’s a plan that has been more than a year in the making, Mountain West network infrastructure manager Tim Meads said.

Mountain West hopes to build two towers in Evansville that, Meads said, would increase residential and commercial internet speeds tenfold. The company is meeting with town officials June 24 to discuss those plans. Meads said in the past, officials have been resistant to the idea. He said the main hang up has been the price the town is willing to accept for the land the towers would be built on.

Meads declined to say how much the town has asked for, but did say the council has been more receptive to the company’s proposal recently.

Evansville Mayor Jennifer Sorenson told a resident at the town’s last council meeting that company representatives had approached the council and they were open to hearing Mountain West’s proposal. Sorenson could not be reached for additional comment before deadline.

Meads said the towers would offer Evansville residents upload and download speeds of 100 megabits per second. That’s significantly higher than the 25 Mbps threshold required by the FCC for broadband connectivity.

Meads said that level of service does not exist in Evansville currently.

“We know there are users out there who struggle with the existing services,” he said.

He said the towers would be significantly cheaper than laying fiber optic cable through the town, though the company would still be able to lay cable for businesses that wanted that service.

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If the plans move forward, towers could be up within the month, Meads said.

The towers transmit what in layman’s terms could be called microwaves, and require that residents and businesses install an antennae on their property to receive the waves. Mountain West currently has 15 such towers across Wyoming, according to FCC records.

The technology actually began in the 1950s. AT&T erected microwave towers across the U.S. for telephone and television. Those towers were mostly abandoned when, because of rapid technological growth, demand outgrew what the towers could provide.

But the idea is making a resurgence in rural areas where conventional connectivity is either economically or geographically infeasible.

The towers have proven so effective for connecting rural communities to the internet that major internet providers are considering adopting the technology as well. Some major providers—like AT&T- are already offering fixed-wireless internet options for rural customers. Others, like Charter Communications, are researching the option.

Even the federal government is supportive of the idea. The Federal Communications Commission is working to build out internet access in rural parts of the country, and has allocated more than $1.4 billion over 10 years to that effort through its Connect America Fund.

An internet company recently built a network of more than 100 of these towers across remote parts of Alaska using Connect America money.

More than $30 million of the fund has been awarded to seven different Wyoming companies—Mountain West among them—to expand broadband in rural areas of the state. Meads said that money will go toward building fixed wireless towers in areas of the state where connectivity is low.

The Evansville towers are not part of that grant program. Still, Meads said, the need is there and Mountain West hopes to meet it.

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Follow city reporter Morgan Hughes on Twitter @morganhwrites.

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Local Government Reporter

Morgan Hughes primarily covers local government. After growing up in rural Wisconsin, she graduated from Marquette University in 2018. She moved to Wyoming shortly after and covered education in Cheyenne before joining the Star-Tribune in May 2019.

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