Laramie’s efforts to become Wyoming’s tech capitol could be hampered by insufficient broadband infrastructure, but for now, the city’s internet provider market is adequate, a Tech Talk Laramie representative said.
“I think our current broadband infrastructure is conducive to our business economy today,” Tech Talk Laramie Board President Fred Schmechel said. “But I worry about our future and where it’s going to be 10 years from now.”
According to the Federal Communications Commission, broadband commonly refers to high-speed internet access that is always on and faster than traditional dial-up access.
Broadband infrastructure includes several high-speed transmission technologies such as a digital subscriber line, aka DSL, cable modem and fiber optic technology, the FCC website reports.
“I would equate broadband to a highway — the more lanes you have, the more traffic you can get through,” Schmechel said. “(U.S. Highway) 287 is a nice highway, but it doesn’t transmit high volumes of traffic similar to our current broadband infrastructure. If we had Interstate 80 (for broadband), a lot more traffic could get through faster.”
Since the inception of internet, people have pined for faster speeds.
While some might brush the need off as a case of the gimme-gimmes, Schmechel said high-speed internet could soon be a driving economic factor.
“The challenge becomes getting enough high-traffic users in the area to make the (broadband) companies feel like it’s worth it to come here,” Schmechel said. “I think companies like (Charter Spectrum) and CenturyLink need to make some tech upgrades to attract more users, which will in turn create a more competitive market.”
He defined high-traffic users as data centers such as the Microsoft Data Center in Cheyenne and web developers who host web sites such as Atmosphere Marketing, a business grown in the Wyoming Technology Business Center.
According to a BROADBANDNOW report released early this month, Laramie is the 10,897th most connected city in the U.S. with access to Charter Spectrum for about 92 percent of residents and access to CenturyLink for about 84 percent of residents.
Less than 1 percent of consumers in Laramie have access to two wired service providers or more, the report states. Charter Spectrum provides the city with the fastest download speeds at an average of about 47 megabytes per second, BROADBANDNOW reports.
Laramie’s top 10 percent of download speeds clocked in at about 56 megabytes per second, which is nearly half the national top speed of about 106 megabytes per second and faster than Wyoming’s average top speed of about 42 megabytes per second.
While Schmechel said the future of Laramie’s broadband infrastructure is up for grabs, UL IT Program Manager Randal Six said the current infrastructure is a selling point.
“For us, part of our decision to move up is having a robust broadband infrastructure,” Six said. “The current download speed is adequate for what we have going right now, but it will be very hard to build a tech presence in Wyoming without improving that drastically.”
Confident the city’s infrastructure will grow with demand, he said internet is the basic utility of the future. Like homes need more water and sewer as they get bigger, Six said tech companies need more broadband infrastructure as technology moves forward.
“There is no uncertainty that everything tech is moving to the cloud at incredible speeds,” he said.
“Four-five years ago, everyone had their iTunes library in their device, now it’s all streaming. As your demand grows, the infrastructure needs to grow as well. We need both pipes in the ground and internet vendors.”
Bringing in more vendors doesn’t ensure a competitive market, however. Piping broadband into people’s homes and businesses could present problems in the future, Six said.
“There could be tremendous supply into the city, but if you can’t get it to the user, it becomes a problem,” he said. “We’re fortunate enough at Cirrus Sky that we are able to connect in.”
Medicine Bow Technologies Chief Business Development Officer Shaun Bullock said his opinion of Laramie’s broadband infrastructure was middle of the road.
“There was enough infrastructure here when we started up for it to work,” Bullock said. “It was a little slower, and times were tough, but it got better. If we were to ever look to move elsewhere, it wouldn’t be because of Laramie’s broadband infrastructure.”
Despite the improvements made to the broadband infrastructure, he said it still left much to be desired.
“Everyone would like it to be a little faster, but the speed is adequate,” Bullock said. “There’s room for improvement. I know some small towns around Wyoming are getting fiberoptic connections to their doorstep, which makes me a little jealous. But I would say adequate is accurate.”
As doubt ripples through the city’s tech community about Laramie’s future internet capabilities, he said he didn’t share the community’s fears.
“Right now, it’s not a problem,” Bullock said. “I don’t have a lot of the fears some people do, because I know about the major infrastructure running through the community. I don’t think it will be a problem in 5-10 years for now. I think we’re keeping up with the Joneses.”