Wyoming Relying on ACP for Affordable Broadband
Tuesday, September 12, 2023
Wyoming Relying on ACP for Affordable Broadband
States are banking on the ACP to ensure broadband is affordable for their low-income residents, but the future of the program remains uncertain. This week we are spotlighting the role ACP plays in states’ digital equity plans to achieve universal broadband.
Increasing broadband adoption across Wyoming is critical to the state’s future. Connecting to and effectively using affordable, reliable, and future-proof broadband is important to reaching many of Wyoming’s current goals, particularly around economic and workforce development, education, and health.
For example, the Wyoming Telehealth Consortium, an organization created by the state legislature in 2009 to develop and promote standards for telemedicine and telehealth networks, is dedicated to finding solutions in order to provide telehealth services to all Wyoming residents regardless of location, income, disability, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and age. In a recent strategic plan, the consortium identified lack of broadband infrastructure and affordable access in the state as a barrier to telemedicine adoption. The consortium's goals include reducing the costs of healthcare services in Wyoming through the use of telehealth—and 95 percent of households in the state having affordable access to broadband.
Wyoming’s vision is to ensure that every citizen and business can connect to and effectively use affordable, reliable, and future-proof broadband. The second part of this vision—affordability—relies on engaging with providers to participate in the Federal Communications Commission's Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) and offer low-cost plans, driving citizen awareness of affordable plans, and supporting ongoing efforts to increase use of affordable devices (e.g., through device loans or refurbishment). "Together, these activities will increase broadband adoption across the state," says the Wyoming Draft Digital Access Plan.
Broadband adoption varies significantly across Wyoming's covered populations (e.g., veterans, seniors, rural households, racial or ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and language barriers, the incarcerated, and low-income households). The largest gap in adoption is across income levels. While nearly one-third (31.8 percent) of households earning less than $20,000 per year have not adopted broadband, only 5.3 percent of those earning $75,000 or more per year do not subscribe. Approximately 18 percent of Wyoming citizens live in a household with income below 150% of the federal poverty line.
The availability of affordable broadband service plans varies across Wyoming counties. An affordability analysis found that approximately 1 percent of locations (2,988) in Wyoming had access to a broadband plan with speeds of at least 100/20 Mbps for $30/month or less. Increasing the cost of the subscription to $50 or less increases
availability to approximately 14 percent of locations (36,833) across Wyoming, with the southeastern counties having greater access to affordable plans
In Wyoming, there are about 85,500 households (approximately 37 percent of all households in the state) eligible for ACP and less than 17,000 households were enrolled in ACP (approximately 20% of all eligible households) as of April 2023. This enrollment rate is 14 percentage points lower than the national average. Currently, 80 percent of eligible households in Wyoming are not enrolled, making Wyoming 42nd in percentage of ACP enrollment compared to other states. Given the high rate of ACP
eligibility and low rate of enrollment, many Wyomingites may lack awareness of internet subsidy programs that could help improve broadband affordability (and by extension, adoption).
In its Draft Digital Access Plan, the Wyoming Broadband Office (WBO) looks to accelerate broadband adoption through strategies related to federal broadband access and adoption investments made possible through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. WBO is focused on reducing disparities in broadband adoption by covered populations in the state through the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program and Digital Equity programs. Activities include requiring BEAD-supported network operators to participate in ACP and market to eligible households, raising awareness of ACP among covered populations, and increasing the number of state
programs that promote ACP.
The Community Services Network of Wyoming (CSNOW) and the Council of Community Services (CCS) have received a total of $475,000 in grants from the Federal Communications Commission to increase ACP awareness and enrollment. WBO expects that these initiatives will have a substantial impact on ACP enrollment and broadband adoption among the state's covered populations.
As part of its digital equity planning, WBO is aiming to grow the number of relevant state programs (e.g., the Wyoming Department of Family Service's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) that promote ACP or other low-cost program enrollment. In the near term, WBO aims for 75 percent of state programs to promote enrollment. And, in the long-term, all state programs.
WBO's plan calls for boosting ACP enrollment among eligible Wyoming households, which is currently 20 percent. WBO is aiming to have the highest rate of ACP enrollment in the Rocky Mountain region. New Mexico currently leads the six states in that region with 40 percent of eligible households participating in ACP. New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said, " New Mexico is committed to providing internet access to every New Mexican and the Affordable Connectivity Program will bolster the work we are doing at the state level."
Wyoming's Digital Access Plan relies on, of course, the ACP continuing for years to come. However, ACP funding is estimated to run out in less than one year. The rural broadband networks Wyoming invests in through the BEAD Program may not be as sustainable if many low-income Wyomingites cannot afford monthly subscription bills.
In this series:
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.
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