Wyoming Seeks Feedback on Digital Access Plan

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Friday, August 11, 2023

Weekly Digest

Wyoming Seeks Feedback on Digital Access Plan

 You’re reading the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society’s Weekly Digest, a recap of the biggest (or most overlooked) broadband stories of the week. The digest is delivered via e-mail each Friday.

Round-Up for the Week of August 7-11, 2023

Grace Tepper

All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico are currently working on digital equity plans. As they release draft plans seeking public feedback, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is sharing summaries focused on how states define their digital divides and their vision for reaching digital equity.

"The Wyoming Broadband Office’s vision for broadband and digital access is as expansive as the state itself"

The Wyoming Broadband Office (WBO), part of the Wyoming Business Council, made its draft Digital Access Plan available to the public on July 18, 2023, and is allowing one month for residents to submit their feedback. The draft plan includes a vision for digital equity for the state, a set of goals to activate that vision within Wyoming’s Digital Access program, current assets and barriers, and an implementation plan to achieve the goals and address the barriers identified.

Wyoming's Vision of Digital Equity

Wyoming’s vision is to ensure that every citizen and business can connect to and effectively use affordable, reliable, and future-proof broadband. The first part of this vision – connecting – is critical to success for Wyoming. Today, approximately 73% of Wyoming’s broadband serviceable locations (BSLs) are served. Through existing federal funding commitments, WBO expects that percentage to increase to 85%. With a combination of new programs (e.g., Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program and Connect Wyoming 2 [supported by the Capital Projects Fund (CPF)]) and private investment, WBO believes that all locations will soon be able to access broadband reliably and, wherever possible, through a future-proof technology. This bold vision will not be easily achieved. Three factors make deployment in Wyoming especially challenging – population density, land area, and topography. Wyomingites are dispersed across the state, resulting in a population density of only 6 people per square mile. Wyoming is also a frontier state with the smallest population of any of the 50 states but the 9th largest land area. Finally, with an average elevation of 6,700 feet, Wyoming’s mountainous terrain can pose logistical and cost challenges to deploying fiber optic cable. Through the state’s BEAD plans (Five-Year Action Plan and Initial Proposal), Wyoming will propose a sustainable strategy for bringing all citizens and businesses online.

The second part of this vision – affordability – will be realized through both Wyoming’s BEAD Five-Year Action Plan and Digital Access Plan. These plans support an increase in the affordable supply of broadband by engaging with providers to participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) and offer low-cost plans, driving citizen awareness of affordable plans, and supporting ongoing efforts to increase affordable devices (e.g., through device loans or refurbishment). Together, these activities will increase broadband adoption across the state.

Lastly, the third part of this vision – effective use of broadband – will be achieved by increasing the number of people and businesses who both find value in broadband internet access and make meaningful use of it. This can be achieved in three ways:

  • Digital skill development at schools, libraries, workplaces, community colleges, and universities
  • Government services delivered more effectively and efficiently online, particularly for Covered Populations
  • Safe and secure online environments for Wyoming’s citizens

As WBO considers the strategies it will undertake to implement the Digital Access Plan, it will focus on increasing the number of citizens with access to affordable broadband and devices. It will prioritize digital skills and online privacy. Wyoming will also build on these actions to improve the delivery and accessibility of online government services for its citizens. These initiatives will enable greater economic resilience and growth, both bringing new citizens to the state and helping current Wyomingites grow their diverse businesses (e.g., via new business starts and expansions of family-owned businesses).

To accomplish this effort, WBO has built a team of technical experts and advisors. Concurrently, agencies across the state's executive branch are identifying key personnel to support both planning and implementation. With this talented, multi-disciplinary team, WBO is well-positioned to act on this ambitious Digital Access Plan.

WBO recognizes that the nature of this federal funding is one-time, which has different implementation implications for broadband infrastructure and digital access. While investment in infrastructure can be successful on a one-time basis, the same is not universally true for other areas related to digital access. Therefore, WBO is focused on designing efforts with an eye toward sustainability. To start, WBO has identified existing efforts and potential partners that can help the state accelerate and sustain the impact of these foundational investments.

Barriers to Broadband


In Wyoming, rural citizens (60% of the total population) and those aged 60 or over (24%) comprise the largest share of Wyoming’s Covered Populations. Low-income households, defined as those at or below 150% of the federal poverty line, racial and ethnic minorities, citizens with a disability, and those with a language barrier are all between 11% and 17% of the total statewide population. Veterans and incarcerated individuals comprise less than 10% of Wyoming’s Covered Populations.

WBO analyzed the impact of broadband availability on various Covered Populations across the state. For most Covered Populations, WBO did not find a difference in broadband availability. However, three Covered Populations (rural, those aged 60+, and veterans) were all found to have at least some gaps in broadband availability. Wyomingites who live in rural areas are the most likely to live in areas that are unserved or underserved, and both those aged 60+ and veterans are more likely to live in unserved or underserved communities. At 28%, rural areas have the highest proportion (and total number) of unserved and underserved locations in Wyoming. Citizens over 60 and veterans are slightly more likely to live in areas with less broadband availability. Across other Covered Populations, access to broadband is approximately the same as or slightly greater than the statewide average.


Broadband adoption varies significantly by Covered Population. The largest gap in adoption is across income levels. While nearly one-third (31.8%) of households
earning less than $20,000 per year have not adopted broadband, only 5.3% of those earning $75,000 or more per year do not subscribe. There is also a significant gap in broadband adoption between citizens over 60 and those of working age or younger. 62% of Wyomingites aged 60+ subscribe to terrestrial broadband, while 73% of working-age adults do. Similarly, 57% of both Native Americans and Black Wyomingites subscribe compared to 71% of the population overall. Veterans and disabled citizens have also adopted terrestrial broadband at a slightly lower rate than non-veterans or non-disabled.

Black Wyomingites, Native Americans, and individuals with a disability are less likely to own internet-capable devices compared to the rest of the Wyoming population. The gaps are significant. Overall device ownership is at 88%, but Black Wyomingites, Native Americans, and individuals with a disability are far less likely to own a computer or tablet than other groups, with adoption rates of 64%, 70%, and 80% respectively. By comparison, 90% of citizens without a disability and 89% of white citizens have a device at home. Individuals 16 and under have the smallest gap in device adoption across all demographic groups in Wyoming.

While the vast majority of Wyoming households have an internet subscription (87.5%), there are significant gaps by type of technology. Approximately 10% of households only access the internet through a cellular data connection. While this may be sufficient service for some, for others it can be a product of limited home broadband access options or an inability to afford separate home broadband and phone plans. When more than one person lives in a household, cellular-only plans can be limiting given that the household’s access to the internet may travel with the person who owns the phone. A similar share of households (11%) subscribe to satellite service. Satellite service is typically available in locations where terrestrial broadband may not be viable and could contribute to overall internet subscription rates in Wyoming.

Adoption rates of high-speed internet also vary across geographies in Wyoming, particularly when comparing across technologies. When considering both terrestrial and satellite technologies, all counties have subscription rates of at least 63%, although no county has a subscription rate greater than 87%. The four counties with the lowest terrestrial and satellite broadband adoption are Crook, Weston, Goshen, and Platte, all of which are located on the eastern side of the state. Notably, two of these four counties, Crook and Weston, also have a relatively low percentage of served locations and the highest cellular-only subscription rates in the state, likely driven in part due to low service availability.


In line with national trends, affordability is likely a significant driver of the gap in broadband adoption. In Wyoming, there is a 26.5 percentage point gap in broadband adoption between households earning less than $20,000/year and those earning greater than $75,000/year (68.2% compared to 94.7%, respectively). Given the variation in broadband plan prices, one way to consider affordability is by assessing the proportion of a monthly plan’s price relative to household income. For example, using the 2% income threshold set by the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, more than 40% of Wyoming households may not be able to afford internet that costs $100/month. This falls precipitously when broadband is $10/month; at that price point, only 3% of Wyoming households may not be able to afford internet. These analyses indicate broadband adoption varies by income group among Wyoming households, and an analysis of device access shows similar trends. Approximately 67% of households with incomes of less than $20,000/year have a desktop, laptop, or tablet at home compared to 94% of households with incomes greater than $75,000/year. 

Approximately 18% of Wyoming citizens live in a household with income below 150% of the federal poverty line (and therefore count as a Covered Population). Given the cost of broadband, this could suggest a barrier to adoption. Wyoming counties with small to medium-sized populations, such as Albany and Fremont, have a relatively higher percentage of households with income below 150% of the federal poverty line. Approximately 68,500 eligible households are estimated to not be enrolled in ACP across the state. There is significant variation across even similarly populated counties. For example, Sweetwater and Fremont counties have similar populations (~39,000 and ~41,000 citizens, respectively). However, ACP enrollment in Sweetwater stands at 4%, while 18% of Fremont’s eligible population is enrolled. Wyoming may have an opportunity to increase high-speed broadband adoption by creating affordable internet subscriptions and increasing awareness efforts to drive enrollment in available assistance programs.

Implementation Strategy and Key Activities

WBO’s implementation goals for the Wyoming Digital Access Plan build on the existing activities taking place in schools, businesses, libraries, colleges, universities, and nonprofit organizations across the state. By building upon existing assets and evaluating and learning from best practices, the state will amplify the impact of the funding and increase sustainability in the future.

At present, WBO plans to use most of its Digital Equity Act funding to set up a statewide competitive grant program to support Covered Populations that will prioritize organizations that have been in the state for at least three years with a demonstrated record of impact in advancing digital access.

Grants will be directed to supporting one of WBO’s six goals:

I. Provide all Wyoming citizens and businesses with access to reliable, high-speed internet at home and in their communities.

WBO will meet this goal by making grants to broadband providers to connect all unserved and upgrade all underserved homes and businesses (i.e., Broadband Serviceable Locations – BSLs) in the state. A key piece of this implementation will be ensuring that Wyoming has the workforce necessary to build and maintain broadband networks. WBO’s proposal for fully deploying broadband throughout the state will be described in detail in the state’s forthcoming BEAD Initial Proposal.

Measurable Goals and Timeline

Progress on this goal will be measured by the percentage of unserved locations in the state. The initial baseline will start at 9% (23,691) unserved (considering locations with federal funding commitments as served), 17% (44,108) unserved––including all currently unserved locations (i.e., those with and without federal funding commitments to serve)––and all underserved. The near-term goal is 7% with the long-term goal of 0. Data will be collected from BEAD subrecipient reporting.

To monitor progress on the state's goal of enabling workforce training for broadband-deployment roles, Wyoming will monitor the percentage and number of subrecipients reporting labor as a barrier to timely construction of BEAD–funded projects, with metrics to be determined when BEAD begins. The number of workers re-skilled/up-skilled as well as the number of training programs created will also be tracked for this goal.

II. Increase the number of Wyoming citizens who subscribe to broadband, including low-cost programs

By requiring BEAD subrecipients to offer a low-cost plan and participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), Wyoming can ensure rural citizens who receive new services over the coming years will be able to afford them. It is equally important for BEAD subrecipients to engage in active outreach about their new services to all members of the communities they are serving, which will support both overall adoption and adoption by Covered Populations. Promoting the ACP program through state programs in which many low-income Wyomingites participate is also a potentially effective and low-cost way to increase awareness of the program. Lastly, WBO will support ACP awareness building by trusted organizations.

Wyoming has an ambitious plan to increase broadband subscribership that relies on five strategies and, if required, additional related activities:

  • Require all BEAD subrecipients to participate in ACP.
  • Require all BEAD subrecipients to offer a low-cost plan.
  • Increase adoption of new services through broad awareness of BEAD subrecipients’ new infrastructure buildouts and low-cost plans.
    • Related activities: Monitor implementation of marketing plans as part of WBO’s subrecipient monitoring and evaluation activities.
  • Increase the number of relevant state programs that promote ACP enrollment (e.g., SNAP).
    • Related activities: Request state agencies to identify which of their programs have the greatest share of participation by members of Covered Populations and support these programs in promoting ACP enrollment to their participants.
  • Drive awareness of ACP among Covered Populations.
    • Related activities: Coordinate with existing grant-funded programs (e.g., FCC sub-recipients CSNOW and CCS) to avoid duplication of services in geographies or by Covered Populations, and award State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Funds to trusted community organizations as needed in response to identified gaps.

Measurable Goals and Timeline

WBO will require all BEAD subrecipients to participate in ACP, and monitor BEAD subrecipients' data for this goal. Additionally, WBO will work to increase adoption of new services through broad awareness of BEAD subrecipients’ new infrastructure buildouts and low-cost plans, with 100% of newly served/upgraded BEAD locations receiving outreach from subrecipient. WBO will also grow the number of relevant state programs that promote ACP or other low-cost program enrollment (e.g., SNAP)––with 75% state program participation as a near-term goal and 100% as the long-term goal––and boost enrollment of ACP among eligible households, with increasing and maintaining ACP enrollment at the highest rate in the Rocky Mountain region as the near and long-term goal. Data for these goals will be taken from BEAD subrecipients, ACP enrollment data and other data reporting.

III. Increase the number of Wyoming citizens with the opportunity to use one or more computing devices

If funding is secured, the Wyoming State Library may deploy approximately 2,000 tablets with Wi-Fi hotspots through local library systems across the state.

  • These devices will be available for community members to check out and use at home. This would be the first large-scale community device lending program in Wyoming.
  • WBO will collaborate with the State Library to monitor implementation and evaluate the need for additional devices, particularly as utilization reaches 75% or higher (to ensure sufficient slack in the system to make devices available to citizens).
  • It is additionally possible that some Covered Populations who need device access may be more effectively reached through other channels (e.g., schools, healthcare centers).
  • WBO will continue stakeholder engagement throughout the five years of the Digital Access Plan’s implementation and will consider additional device loans if required to meet the needs of Wyoming’s citizens.

All of these devices will also include Wi-Fi access, which can support those citizens who lack both devices and affordable broadband service. One limitation of these Wi-Fi hotspots is that they will only work in areas of the state with existing cellular data service. While there will likely always be some need for hotspot access, WBO expects the demand to decrease as broadband availability and affordability improves.

Additional programs could also start soon (e.g., a state refurbishing program) if external funding is approved. WBO will continue to monitor new programs as they begin throughout the state.

Measurable Goals and Timeline

WBO will expand access to device loans (i.e., laptop, tablet, hotspot). To monitor this, the state will observe the number of loanable devices from libraries or colleges, with a near-term goal of 2,000 devices and/or hotspots available (requested through separate funding source) and a long-term goal of adding devices as needed to maintain 75% utilization. The utilization rate of devices at libraries or colleges serves as an additional metric, with a near-term goal of 100% utilization––hotspots being continuously checked-out and having a waitlist––and a long-term goal of 75% utilization. Utilization numbers and waitlist data will be collected from the State Library and colleges.

IV. Increase the number of Wyoming citizens who are equipped to use the internet and internet-enabled devices to support their economic, educational, health, and related goals

To meet this goal, WBO has developed two strategies:

  • Grow the number of Wyomingites who possess the digital skills to support an exceptional education, economy, and workforce
    • Expand access to basic digital skills training in local organizations (e.g., libraries, health-related organizations, adult education, nonprofit organizations). These organizations may have staff or volunteers who can help citizens navigate opportunities for digital skills training and, if needed, provide citizens with support in signing up for low-cost broadband programs or checking-out a device from the library.
  • Support additional training contextualized to occupational digital skills in partnership with workforce stakeholders, including with lower-wage employers. While some basic skills are applicable across a wide variety of contexts, others are specific to a type of job (e.g., construction, quick service).
    • Increase opportunities for advanced skill training as part of workforce upskilling or reskilling, primarily through the community college system and in response to employer needs.
    • Strengthen investment in K-12 and college STEM training at basic and advanced levels.
  • Increase the number of Wyomingites who use telehealth services to access medical care.
    • Expand training opportunities for citizens who may benefit from telehealth services such as individuals living in rural areas, senior populations, or those without access to easy and reliable transportation or flexible work schedules.

Measurable Goals and Timeline

The first objective/strategy for this goal will be to grow the number of Wyomingites who possess the digital skills to support an exceptional education, economy, and workforce. This will be tracked using the number of workers re-skilled/up-skilled, and number of K-12 students participating in basic and advanced skills training. The near and long-term goal of this is to monitor the number of people across Covered Populations that complete certifications at learning locations, and number of certifications completed across Covered Populations at learning locations. Specific increases will be defined during State Digital Equity Capacity Grant subrecipient application process. The second strategy for this goal is increasing the number of Wyomingites who are trained to use telehealth services to access medical care, tracked by the number of patients who are trained to use telehealth services. Near and long-term goal is increasing in telehealth training; specific activities and scope to be refined pending public comment and further evaluation. Data will be taken from Digital Access subrecipient reporting.

V. Create a safe environment (e.g., privacy and cybersecurity) for citizens to engage with broadband-enabled devices.

To deliver on this goal, WBO will ensure subrecipients follow through with commitments to adopt the National Institute of Standards and Technology cybersecurity framework. This will be accomplished through the implementation of the BEAD program.

Measurable Goals and Timeline

The strategy for this goal is to require subrecipients to adopt the NIST cybersecurity framework. The state will monitor this goal through BEAD subrecipient reporting.

VI. Promote a range of internet-enabled government service offerings which meet citizen needs.

WBO has identified three key strategies which can support the state in creating accessible and inclusive online government services:

  • Increase the number of government services delivered online with a particular emphasis on those that primarily serve Covered Populations.
  • Incorporate accessibility for hearing, visual, or other challenges.
  • Offer online services in Spanish and/or other languages.

To identify existing programs that support Covered Populations and could benefit from both greater digital delivery and citizen experience improvements, WBO intends to collaborate with Wyoming's Enterprise Technology Services (ETS) on an assessment of current state services. As a result of this initial assessment, ETS will have data to better understand the potential impact of various interventions and could then prioritize services for enhancement.

Measurable Goals and Timeline

The objectives for this goal are to expand the number of state government services delivered online, incorporate accessibility for those who possess auditory, visual, or other impairments, and offer state services online in Spanish and/or other languages. For all three, the near-term goal is conducting current state assessment in collaboration with ETS, and the long-term goal is implementing enhancement in collaboration with ETS. Data will be taken from the related state departments.

Wyoming Wants to Hear From You

Public comments on Wyoming's draft Digital Access Plan can be submitted to the Wyoming Broadband Office using this form until August 17, 2023.

Quick Bits

Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)

ICYMI from Benton

Upcoming Events

Aug 17––Matching funds for Rural Electric Cooperatives and Telcos (Fiber Broadband Association)

Aug 17––Technological Advisory Council (FCC)

Aug 20––Fiber Connect 2023 (Fiber Broadband Association)

Sept 7––Disability Advisory Committee Meeting (FCC)

Sept 27-28––Oregon Infrastructure Summit (Business Oregon)

Oct 2-6––Digital Inclusion Week 2023 (NDIA)

Oct 24––41st Annual Everett C. Parker Lecture & Awards Breakfast (United Church of Christ Media Justice Ministry)

Oct 26––Oregon Connections: Navigating the Funding Flood. (Oregon Connections)

Nov 15-17––U.S. Broadband Summit (Fierce)

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