While it’s hard to find anyone who’ll deny the importance of broadband in 2021, states still have significant work left to provide their residents with universal access to the internet, particularly in regions with large rural populations.
Ryan Kudera, Wyoming’s broadband manager, says on a new episode of StateScoop’s Priorities podcast that he doesn’t know exactly how much of the state still needs to be connected — “that’s the million-dollar question” — but that he knows the vast, rural state still has many people who lack connectivity.
“While so many things help to support economic development, it’s truly my opinion that broadband actually can drive economic development,” Kudera says.
In addition to leaning on funding from the American Rescue Plan, Kudera said the state’s broadband funding program, established in 2019, will see expansion later this year. According to the website BroadbandNow, Wyoming ranks No. 46 out of 51 states for the strength of its “broadband ecosystem.” Kudera says he hopes the upcoming funding will improve things.
But states everywhere can face challenges with expanding their broadband networks, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts, which last month sent a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen asking for stricter definitions of what constitutes a broadband connection, along with greater authority and flexibility for states seeking federal funding for broadband.
“While federal guidelines should set high standards for deployment and accountability, they should also allow states to set priorities for project implementation,” the letter read.
Anna Read, senior officer for the Broadband Access Initiative at The Pew Charitable Trusts, says on the podcast that states and localities should be afforded greater input when it comes to broadband because they’re the most familiar with the challenges communities face.
“There’s not a lot of input from state agencies or local communities where the funding is being directed as to the service that is being provided or what the challenges and needs in that area are,” Read says.
Listen to archived episodes of Priorities from Season 5 (2020), Season 4 (2019), Season 3 (2018), Season 2 (2017) and Season 1 (2016). Catch all of StateScoop’s podcasts on Soundcloud, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher or Alexa’s TuneIn.