- July 20, 2019

Innovative Mapping Tool Quantifies Wyoming’s Broadband Needs 

by Jackson Hole Radio News

Wyoming has a new and unique tool for enhancing its broadband coverage in rural areas: an interactive map that shows the results of internet-speed tests and broadband availability across the state, detailed down to individual parcels.

“This tool is going to make an enormous difference in improving broadband coverage in rural Wyoming,” said Wyoming’s broadband manager, Russ Elliott. “What gets measured gets done. Our mission is to serve every Wyoming citizen and every Wyoming business, and to do that we need to know where and who the people are that need our support.”

The mapping tool was created with the support of Teal Wyckoff and the University to Wyoming’s GIS department. It displays a color-coded dot for every speed test that has been completed in the state, creating a visual demonstration of served and unserved areas, along with quality of service at those locations. Unserved in Wyoming is currently defined as less than 25 MBps for download speed and three MBps for upload speed.

Such detail is very important in rural Wyoming, as a county may be considered served by federal standards based on data the FCC has collected, but in fact, there are still many unserved homes and businesses in those regions. For example, most of Goshen County is considered served by federal standards, but a plethora of red dots on the map – which denote unserved speed tests – tells a very different story.

“Goshen County has some very fast speeds right in and around Torrington that skew the data for the rest of the county, which would otherwise be considered unserved,” Elliott explained.

The Reconnect program – a new USDA grant established to help deliver broadband to unserved areas of the country – is only eligible to those areas considered unserved by federal standards.

“The detail of this mapping tool gives us the evidence we need to show the feds that those homes, those families, those businesses in areas deemed served by the federal maps are indeed unserved and should qualify for that grant money,” Elliott said. “We’re ahead of the feds on this, and I don’t know any other state that drills down to this level of detail on speed tests and availability.”

The next step, Elliott said, is getting Wyoming residents to continue to take the speed test on their home computers or mobile devices. The more tests that populate the map, the more accurate it will be and the better representation it will offer for broadband enhancement efforts. Knowing there are some very remote homes that have no internet connectivity at all, he has produced a postage-paid postcard for those Wyoming citizens that includes instructions on how to participate in the data collection.

“People want to do something to improve their internet, and this quick test gives them a tangible action to take that will really help us help them,” Elliott said. “Plus, it’s fun to take the speed test and immediately see your own dot appear on the map; and then to compare your area to others in the state. Engaging people in the conversation and getting them to understand and visualize the broadband needs in the state is critical to making progress.”

Elliott hopes the map will also engage internet providers in the state. They can easily see the red-dot areas and think critically about what they can do themselves or how they can work with the state’s broadband program to reach those potential unserved or underserved customers.

“This is a critical time for rural Wyoming,” Elliott said. “There’s tremendous energy along with state and federal programs and money on the table. If we don’t take advantage of that, we will have squandered a great opportunity.”