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Small internet provider to open digital ‘empowerment center’ in Wyoming

Kristi Eaton for The Daily Yonder.

(Wyoming News Service) A new center in the southwest corner of Wyoming aims to offer digital skills and navigation for people who may not otherwise have access to it. 

The Empowerment Center in Torrington is set to open in the next few weeks, said Matt Larsen, CEO of VistaBeam, the Internet service provider that is setting up the center. 

“Our main goal with the Empowerment Center is, we wanted to get somebody set up to be a digital navigator to help support the community that was there,” he told the Daily Yonder. “We’re going to add a couple of workstations for digital skilling where we’ll have computers available, and people come in and use them whenever they need it. Microsoft is going to have some digital skill programs available that people can use for learning basic things, they can also access whatever else there is on the internet.”

The digital navigator will also be trained to help people sign up for the Affordable Connectivity Program. There will also be a video conferencing set up so people can take part in telehealth appointments, Larsen said. 

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© iStock - klenger

“We’ve also talked to some volunteer legal services that were willing to do video appointments for clients,” he said. “So there will actually be like the video conferencing area is also going to be set up like a community meeting room…We’re trying to come up with a general purpose facility that will be able to meet the needs of people that may or may not have access to broadband, or the technology or the help to be able to utilize the technology in their home.”

The mission behind the center is to empower communities, Larsen said. 

“We look at broadband as a way to help communities be a little bit more self-sufficient, and not be dependent on things,” he added. “Most of the customer base that we have right now, they don’t necessarily have the expertise to try and figure out how to set up a telehealth monitoring system or even to set up video conferencing. We do. We do a lot of tech support. We help people with a lot of different things. And it seemed like the trend that we were starting to observe is that people really needed to have help with those applications.”

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© iStock - Zaephyr18

Jen Davis, senior policy advisor for Human Services for Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon, said she has had conversations with Larsen about the concept. 

“It will allow residents an alternative location to access technological resources such as telehealth, as well as get support from technology experts,” she told the Daily Yonder. “Many of our rural residents may not have technological access to services or some may not know how to utilize it.”

Davis said she would like to see the utilization patterns so that officials know where there remain gaps and where there are successes in order to replicate it properly. 

“If this is successful, I would love to see this grow as an alternative location for rural Wyoming to gain access and support for technology,” she said, adding: “Since Wyoming is so rural, it is critical that we offer ways to connect to resources. Resource centers are a fundamental piece in providing hands-on services and support to residents who can’t otherwise access services.” 

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© iStock - krblokhin

VistaBeam is a small provider – it operates in Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska – so it needs to be well connected to its customers, Larsen said. 

“We looked at this as an opportunity to kind of take that customer relationship to the next level, and even open ourselves up to people,” he said. “This is not something that’s only going to be available to our customers, it’s going to be available to anybody that walks in.”

The company is self-funding the endeavor, mainly from the marketing budget, he said, adding that if successful, they hope to open additional centers in Colorado, Nebraska and elsewhere in Wyoming. 

“We’d like to see it kind of develop as being a go-to place for people to have any kind of digital equity stuff that they need to get taken care of,” Larsen said. “We’d like to see it become something that people feel comfortable coming in, and using it, and to just kind of develop a closer tie with the community.”

Kristi Eaton wrote this article for The Daily Yonder.