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Western governors urge Congress, federal agencies to take action to improve broadband access

Close-up of an internet router with blue and yellow cables coming out of ports and lights flashing.
Charles Krupa/AP
A home router and internet switch are displayed on June 19, 2018, in East Derry, N.H.

Reliable, high-speed internet access has long been a challenge in rural parts of the West. Recently the Western Governor’s Association sent letters to Congress to encourage efforts to improve the situation.

The U.S. House and Senate held hearings on broadband access earlier this month. And the WGA - a bipartisan group that represents state executives across our region - shared its recommendations.

The first was for federal agencies to substantially increase the definition of broadband to "at least" 100 megabytes per second (Mbps) for downloads, 20 megabytes per second for uploads, and "scalable to" 100 Mbps for both.

“Western Governors encourage Congress and federal agencies to recognize that the current definition of broadband – 25/3 Mbps – does not correspond with the requisite download and upload speeds necessary to support many business, education, and health care applications that promote economic and community prosperity,” reads the group’s broadband policy, which was drafted in 2023 and included with the letters.

The Federal Communications Commission took that step in March. The WGA’s Lauren Cloward applauded that move, but said more work remains.

“This is a standard that we're hoping to see across all federal programs,” she said. “And there's a number of agencies that are involved in rural broadband work.”

The WGA also asked that the “exorbitant costs and challenges” of deploying broadband in much of the West be reflected in allocations and that infrastructure permitting be streamlined.

In a March release regarding the broadband definition change, the FCC noted that broadband was “not being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion” in rural areas and on Tribal lands.

“Rural areas and Tribal lands significantly trail more urban areas, with approximately 28% of people living in rural areas and approximately 23% of people living on Tribal lands lacking access to 100/20 Mbps fixed broadband services,” the full report reads.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

As Boise State Public Radio's Mountain West News Bureau reporter, I try to leverage my past experience as a wildland firefighter to provide listeners with informed coverage of a number of key issues in wildland fire. I’m especially interested in efforts to improve the famously challenging and dangerous working conditions on the fireline.