Special Assistant to President for Information Technology
University of Wyoming
Education, higher; Education, continuing or distance; Research, academic
More equitable access to technology or electronic information; Partnerships between public and private sector
Best of Both Worlds: The Internet and the West
The average elevation in the state of Wyoming is 6,700 feet, making it second only to Colorado. Small towns and urban areas are separated by great stretches of high prairies, mountains or desert. Because of Wyoming’s size and wide open spaces, the Internet has been extremely important to faculty, students and others who feel, at times acutely, the difficulty of getting information when you live in a remote location.
The University of Wyoming and Wyoming’s community colleges have been connected to the Internet through Westnet, a regional Internet service provider, since 1988. Each campus has a campus-wide network that allows easy connection from offices and classrooms. Faculty and student use of the network has been typical in that they use the Internet for electronic mail and for access to libraries and supercomputers. They also use the Internet to contact people and organizations throughout the world that they might otherwise never be able to reach.
Perhaps because Wyoming is so sparsely populated — the average density is only 4.7 people per square mile — the amount of Internet use here has been relatively high. The nearest major city to the University of Wyoming is Denver, Colorado, 130 miles away. Some community colleges and towns are hundreds of miles from any major city. In the past, faculty have tried to address this problem by traveling extensively, but travel funds are limited. Internet has helped enormously in this regard.
Following the lead of public higher education, WyomingUs state government has had access to the Internet for two years. Many Wyoming towns are connected to the State Telecommunications Network, and state government is gradually expanding this network with the intention of providing Internet access to libraries, hospitals, local governments and public schools. This expanded network continues to take advantage of the University of Wyoming connection to Westnet.
Currently those wanting commercial access to the Internet are referred to Colorado Supernet, a for-profit service provider. If demand for commercial use becomes substantial enough, Wyoming may form a similar organization. Traditionally, Wyoming’s economy has been based on mining, farming and tourism. More and more consultants and small firms are moving to Wyoming. Where telecommunications services are adequate, these entrepreneurs find that they prefer to conduct their business, even when it is national or international, in small communities with low crime, low taxes, low traffic and a beautiful clean environment.