SHERIDAN — Just as America’s economy boomed — and everything became more accessible — after the passage of the Federal Highway Act in 1956 and construction of America’s Interstate Highway System, Flint Waters believes Wyoming could “reduce the size of those highways” by becoming the best connected state in the nation on the information superhighway.

Wyoming’s Chief Information Officer, Flint said Internet technology could become one of Wyoming’s next top industries, next to mining and ranching. Waters presented to more than 100 members Wednesday at the Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon held at the Best Western Sheridan Center.
“In two years, Wyoming will be the only state that is IPv6, corner-to-corner, schools, state offices, everything all rolled in. That will give us a 10-year edge,” Waters said.

Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) is the latest revision of the communications system that routes traffic across the Internet and gives every device connected to the Internet an address.

Currently most users are on IPv4, which is running out of addresses, making it less efficient.
Waters envisions connecting every school and government office in Wyoming — and perhaps the surrounding communities — on IPv6 fiber lines within two years, opening up countless ways to connect and learn.
Current Internet service at several schools struggles to handle even email messages, but the new fiber lines could enable a class in Douglas to host a WWII veteran with classes in Wheatland and Pinedale “piping in” and participating instantaneously. Or a student in Kaycee could intern at the Microsoft Center in Cheyenne — via a lightning fast Internet hangout.

When Waters took his position as the state’s Chief Information Officer, the state had contracted with a single company for all its Internet connectivity.

He has since partnered with independent Internet providers around the state, including ACT in Sheridan, giving independents a market in which to compete since the state is the largest consumer of broadband services.

If the 2014 Legislature approves his IPv6 connectivity plan, Waters will partner with local providers to make it happen.

“We will approach the Legislature in 2014 with a proposal to build out our own rings. We won’t build fiber, just lease from our partners, but we will build our own network on top of their fiber and be able to connect all the areas around Sheridan into one hub and take them straight to the Internet, which means they don’t have to wait for the traffic to go to Cheyenne and process through a single point of failure down there,” Waters said.
The state would pay for the project — at a cost less than $20 million due to partnerships with local Internet companies — with school foundation and general fund money, Waters said.

Waters and Gov. Matt Mead recently spoke with Google representatives about Wyoming’s potential in the technology sector.

“Google asked us to come out and present the ways that Wyoming is leveraging technology in advance of a lot of other entities, and we wanted to get the same in return. We wanted to hear from them about what opportunities they saw to be able to invest in Wyoming,” Waters said. “Gov. Mead emphasized the low cost power we have in Wyoming, the very low cooling days, how we’re not very susceptible to natural disaster like so many other places are, and how we saw ourselves as a perfect partner.”

Wyoming was the first state to “Go Google,” meaning the government connects over the wide miles in the digital cloud, interacting on multiple documents with multiple people at the same time for an almost face-to-face share of ideas and information.

In other business, Carla Klopfenstein presented the upcoming Sheridan County Field of Honor project, which will occur Aug. 9-11 on the Sheridan College lawn to honor past and present military and law enforcement members, firefighters and other first responders in Sheridan. The Field of Honor will include 1,000 full-sized flags that are purchased in someone’s honor. For more information on how to participate, visit www.healingfield.or/sheridan13.

The next Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon will be held July 10 at the Holiday Inn.