By Michael Illiano
The Sheridan Press
Via Wyoming News Exchange
SHERIDAN — The Wyoming Business Council put out a request for proposals this week seeking assistance in the development of the state’s broadband enhancement program created by legislation related to the ENDOW initiative.
Tom Dixon, a communications manager with the Wyoming Business Council, said the RFP is soliciting consultants that can help the Broadband Improvement Council write a broadband enhancement plan over the summer.
“This all kind of ties in to what the business council has been trying to do already,” Dixon said. “The state Legislature agrees that broadband is critical when it comes to economic development; it’s something that companies need and it’s a quality of life issue.”
Colin McKee, a policy advisor in the governor’s office who has been working with the Wyoming Business Council on broadband improvement, said the specifics of the improvement plan will largely be determined by the consultant the state selects.
“We didn’t want to get very prescriptive on what was going to be in the enhancement plan,” McKee said. “We intentionally left the scope of the work fairly general.”
The plan will include a data inventory and mapping component, which McKee said will give the improvement council a picture of the sections of the state with the greatest needs.
“It’s not like Wyoming doesn’t have internet…there are great portions of the state that are covered by any number of different forms of technology,” McKee said. “This program is more of a targeted approach to identify the areas that don’t.”
The legislation that authorized funding for the project, though, is part of the ENDOW initiative, which is aimed at attracting new industries to diversify the state’s economy. How the state and the Broadband Improvement Council choose to utilize the resources the Legislature granted them remains to be seen, but McKee said those resources are limited.
“It’s very likely, given the limited funding the state has — even $10 million is not going to be enough to get all of the projects done that are needed, because this infrastructure is expensive — the state or business council will prioritize how it chooses to use its funding,” McKee said.
McKee said communities will submit applications to the Broadband Improvement Council asking for funding for broadband projects, and the council will distribute funding through the approval of those grants.
The broadband bill that authorized funding for broadband improvement identifies nine criteria the Broadband Improvement Council should use when considering requests for funding. Those criteria range from extending broadband service to economically distressed areas of the state to providing high-speed broadband service to business districts. McKee said, in addition to the priorities the Broadband Improvement Council identifies, funding determinations will depend on whether the state can leverage public-private partnerships to accomplish a project.
“The intent is not for the state to go build its own infrastructure; it’s to work with industries to accomplish that,” McKee said.
Dixon added that part of the council’s enhancement plan will identify ways of offering incentives to companies that want to invest in broadband infrastructure.
The legislation charges the Broadband Advisory Council with adopting the enhancement plan by Sept. 1. Proposals from consultants are due to the WBC by June 8.