Centennial is getting an internet upgrade next summer as wireless service provider VistaBeam works with the Wyoming Business Council to improve broadband in the area.
The company has been making periodic visits to Centennial “to look at the business case and talk to local residents about the broadband situation in the area,” said Vistabeam CEO Matt Larsen. Currently, Centennial has fixed broadband DSL.
“The feedback was very positive, as availability was pretty spotty and speed of the existing broadband in Centennial was below the federal standard,” Larsen said.
The dialup and DSL access currently in Centennial was first provided by internet service provider Cyberhighway of Laramie in 1997, who upgraded it to fixed wireless in 2002.
Vistabeam acquired the company in 2007 and extended wireless broadband service to other rural areas, including Tie Siding, Rock River, Medicine Bow, Hanna and Elk Mountain.
Vistabeam is looking to give the town an upgrade; Larsen told the Boomerang Tuesday the infrastructure they’re looking to put in place would provide “about a 10x jump in speed” from what residents currently have.
The project would provide broadband access or upgrades to 95% of households in the area, including 15 businesses and 423 homes, according to data from the Wyoming Business Council.
Earlier this year, Vistabeam was approached by the state’s broadband manager, Russ Elliott, to see if anything could be done to improve broadband in and around Centennial.
Elliott encouraged the company to apply for a $196,895 grant from the Wyoming Broadband Development fund, which is operated by the Wyoming Business Council.
After six months of preparation and with tower sites secured and a buildout plan ready to go, Vistabeam applied for the grant in October.
They expect to hear the results in January or February, and should the grant be approved, construction is ready to start almost immediately that summer.
The company plans to bring two new portable towers to Centennial in addition to purchasing and using a tower currently in place near Rob Roy reservoir. However, Larsen said the grant “only covers about half the cost of what we’re putting in up there.”
“The costs that we were looking at trying to get back out of this was basically to put the infrastructure in so the broadband would be available,” he said.
Typically grants require matching funds from the local government, but Vistabeam has opted to provide the matching funds instead. This grant requires matching funds equal to the grant amount.
Once construction is complete, residents will be offered one of three typical Vistabeam subscription packages with varying internet speeds and prices. The same subscription packages are currently available in Laramie.
On Nov. 19, the Albany County Commissioners approved a resolution in support of the application.
Larsen told the commissioners should this project be successful, “there’s probably going to be a lot of potential for other places in the county.”
Beyond centennial, Larsen said Vistabeam is “actively looking for other projects like this in Albany County” and in other rural areas around the state, including Hanna, Elk Mountain and Medicine Bow.
During the Nov. 19 meeting, commissioner Heber Richardson noted the importance internet access has for community growth.
“It’s nice that the Wyoming Business Council recognizes that Wyoming has a lot of great things,” he said, “but broadband and air service can make or break our economic development.”
He added that by approving the resolution, the commissioners were not endorsing one company over another.
“We would probably support a resolution for any business to do this; it’s not just Vistabeam,” he said. “The citizens need that infrastructure but we’re agnostic about who provides it.”
This is the first batch of applications for these broadband grants. Albany County will handle the grant administration should it be approved.