CHEYENNE – Cheyenne’s historic Depot and its plaza are getting free public Wi-Fi, courtesy of Microsoft.
The software giant, which runs a data center west of town, announced Friday it is donating $150,000 to the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce Foundation to build a network anyone can use on the plaza and within the Depot building.
Microsoft announced the donation at the Chamber’s monthly luncheon Friday. The project would fulfill a key goal of Mayor Marian Orr’s Broadband Task Force, which recommended building such a network in its report to the city last year.
Microsoft Philanthropies General Manager Kate Behncken said the gift reflected Cheyenne’s emphasis on becoming a more connected city, its “focus on digital skills” and its “desire to make sure its workforce is future-ready.”
Mayor Marian Orr also spoke and thanked the company for its investment.
“I know that this is just the beginning,” Orr said. “And how better to pilot this Wi-Fi project than at the Depot, and then learn from that and take it to other areas of the community, as well.”
The Chamber is already seeking a contractor for the installation job, Chamber Vice President Stephanie Meisner-Maggard said. The Chamber’s goal is to have the network online this summer.
If there’s money left over, Meisner-Maggard said the Chamber could also extend the network down 15th Street to serve the Cheyenne Farmers Market.
In an email, Microsoft spokeswoman Wendy Sloan said the goal is to meet or exceed the Federal Communications Commission’s definitions for broadband: 25-megabit-per-second downloads and 3-Mbps uploads. Those speeds would allow users to browse the internet and stream videos without issue.
The Wyoming Tribune Eagle first reported talks of a Microsoft-funded network in April.
Eric Trowbridge, who runs the Array coding school downtown and led the task force, said then that a free public network around the Depot could mean more people streaming and sharing videos of summer concerts on the plaza.
He said the city government might also use it to collect more data and offer “smart city” applications for residents.
And on Thursday night, he was celebrating.
“This is a really great step forward,” he said. “It might be ‘Phase 1’ initially, but it’s finally an idea that didn’t die on the table, and we’ll see some version of it and work through it.”
The city is also close to meeting another broadband task force objective.
Cheyenne City Councilman Dicky Shanor is pushing plans to make it possible for wireless providers to install miniaturized cell towers in town, and he expects the issue to come before the council in early spring.
The short-range “small cell” stations allow more people to connect to providers’ networks in dense areas and are expected to form the backbone of next-generation 5G technology.