Joey Bray, a CenturyLink technician, checks the signals on wires in a crossbox behind the Albertsons supermarket on CY Avenue in October 2012. Natrona County will receive $2.6 million from the Federal Communications Commission over the next decade to improve broadband access in rural areas.

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday authorized spending nearly $172 million to improve broadband access in rural areas of Wyoming over the next decade.

The money is part of a nationwide authorization of more than $4.9 billion in support of the effort.

The nationwide authorization is expected to support 455,334 homes and businesses covered by 171 carriers in 39 states and American Samoa. Nearly 45,000 of those locations are on tribal lands.

In Natrona County, 126 locations will receive a total of $2.6 million in assistance over the next decade.

Additionally, these Wyoming counties will receive support: Big Horn, Campbell, Carbon, Converse, Crook, Fremont, Hot Springs, Johnson, Laramie, Lincoln, Niobrara, Sheridan, Sublette, Washakie and Weston.

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Crook ($30 million) Laramie ($28 million) and Fremont ($23 million) counties will receive the most money.

The support targets smaller “rate-of-return” carriers who have agreed to accept money under the FCC’s Alternative Connect America Cost Model. According to the announcement, the model “provides predictability, rewards efficiency, and provides more value for each taxpayer dollar.” It is more expensive in these rural areas to deploy and continue providing broadband, the release said, but FCC support helps keep the rates close to those in urban areas.

Carriers have to “maintain, improve, and expand” broadband that meets certain requirements in more than 363,000 of the locations nationwide: 25 megabits per second downstream and 3 Mbps upstream.

“Our action today will help close the digital divide and is a win-win for rural Americans and taxpayers, including nearly 13,900 homes and small businesses in Wyoming,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. “Carriers get the predictable support they need to deliver broadband to their customers in these high-cost rural areas. And taxpayers, who fund this support through a fee on their phone bills, are getting more bang for their buck.”

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