The map of wireless coverage in Johnson County is a solid green mass around Buffalo that splinters off into uneven tendrils as it reaches into the rural parts of the county.
In those areas, residents often have to rely on satellite internet, which can be inadequate for the streaming needs of people working or schooling from home during a pandemic. So in August, the Wyoming Business Council approved $86 million from the federal CARES Act to be directed toward improving the state’s broadband infrastructure. Part of that money is going to Visionary Broadband, which is now beginning two projects in Johnson County.
“They’re a building block to be able to add to and expand into these areas,” Visionary Broadband director of public relations Stacie McDonald said. “It will always be our intention to expand further in Johnson County and in the city of Buffalo itself.”
One project based in Horseshoe Bend involves connecting an existing fiber hub in Buffalo with the KLGT radio tower west of U.S. Highway 16.
“We’re connecting those two for redundancy, and then they’re going to help us achieve our wireless projects out in the country,” McDonald said.
The second will work in the Lynch, Sussex and Mayoworth area to improve wireless connections. Many residents of these communities rely on satellite internet, which is often hampered by slow connections and data caps that make activities such as downloading school lessons or joining Zoom meetings impossible.
“It just opens up so many more opportunities,” Buffalo Mayor Shane Schrader said. “If they have children, their children can do schooling online. The adults can do education online and still be at home. They won’t have to make arrangements for people to watch their livestock and that sort of stuff.”
Visionary Broadband was awarded the CARES Act funding based on an application that highlighted FCC-designated underserved areas in the county. Because CARES funding runs out on Dec. 30, the projects have to be completed on an unusually tight timeline. Because of the time crunch, McDonald stood before the Buffalo City Council to ask for a use agreement that would allow Visionary to use existing infrastructure in the area, including the city-licensed radio tower.
“There’s a relatively short timeline to get these projects done, which is why we were asking for a use agreement (with the city of Buffalo),” McDonald said. “Fiber projects typically take a little longer, particularly as we’re heading into the winter.”
The pending agreement does not include any sort of franchise agreement that would guarantee further cooperation between the city and the broadband company, but such a relationship is something that Visionary would be interested in pursuing, McDonald told the City Council.
“We are under this grant funding from the Wyoming Business Council, so we can only utilize this funding to build where we’ve agreed to in our application process,” McDonald said. “But once it’s complete, it will be a stepping stone to continue expansion in the city and county. … We’re not done expanding in Buffalo, in either the fiber or wireless market.”
Building more fiber connections will make it easier for wireless coverage to spread even farther through Johnson County in the future.
“I’m very happy that it’s going forward,” Schrader said. “I think it’s a good thing to get as much internet coverage as we can out there. It’s up to the people whether they use it or not, but it’ll be available.”