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Bringing broadband to rural area a challenge

How can broadband service be made available in rural Pierce County?

That is the question crying out for an answer.

Currently, the internet is not regulated. Over 40 years ago, the government said they did not need to. Now you are required to use the internet to work with the government.

“To insure the internet pipeline is open to all users, then the government needs to regulate it,” said Paul Bauer, a member of the Ellsworth Industrial Council. “While most of the nation is concerned with how much of the internet pipeline they get, the rest of us are hoping to get a reasonable pipeline to our home, business or library.”

Rural Wisconsin and rural America is the collateral damage of deregulation policy, which is being fought in the nation as the Net Neutrality Act.

Federal Communication Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler is currently seeking input on a proposal to re-classify broadband as a utility under Title II of the Telecommunication Act. Legislators on both sides of the aisle are weighing in on the proposed change. Once the internet is regulated, minimum standards can be set and the holes in coverage can be covered.

What this would mean, if Wisconsin were allowed to regulate broadband, they could keep pace with the rest of the world. And, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Federal Trade Commissioner Joshua Wright argued, “Deals like those that net neutrality advocates would like to ban actually benefit consumers most of the time by reducing prices and improving quality service.”

Because the internet is not a utility or Title II, it cannot be regulated by the state. Bauer said, deregulation just does not work in rural America. More and more computer software requires Cloud technologies. If large scale reliable broadband is not available in our area, we find ourselves at a disadvantage using a slow internet speed in a fast-paced world.

When the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce Industry Council set out to find a way to expand broadband service to all people in Pierce County, they surveyed county internet users. The survey was funded by the Pierce County Board, Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services/Dairyland Power, Ellsworth Creamery, Ellsworth Industrial Council and the chamber. It was found there was much dissatisfaction over the holes in the coverage in the county. Costs were high and download speeds varied all over the board. The only common theme was a frightening lack of high speed service.

Such lack of high speed broadband has been holding back business, development and housing growth in many parts of the county, forcing both business and residents to relocate elsewhere. The quiet country appeal of the area is one thing, but lack of positive growth and its resulting lowering of the tax base was quite another. With the metropolitan Twin Cities just 30 minutes away one might expect better internet service.

In discussions with the major player in the high speed provider game, AT&T, it was learned the utility has been providing land line service in the heart of Pierce County and to expand fiber optics needed to keep pace in today’s market would not be cost effective. The idea of having other companies bid on providing such service is now being explored, but new companies may lack the critical mass of the existing provider.

Bauer said, “We need broadband coverage in the rural area, even if it has to be regulated.”

To express an opinion, write the elected officials and the FCC chairman, and help open up the county to economical high speed and assure future growth. Write the local elected county, state and federal officials, Rural Wisconsin desires broadband service and elected officials should take all steps needed to provide the service equitably to all Wisconsin residents. Making internet service a Title II communication service is one possible solution.

--County Board, Jeff Holst, Chair, W10014 1105th St., Hager City, WI 54014, 715-792-2732;

--State Assemblyman, Warren Petryk, Room 103, State Office Building, Box 8953, Madison, WI 53708, 608-266-0660;

--State Senate, Kathleen Vinehout, Room 22, State Office Building, Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707 715-256-7444;

--US house, Ron Kind, 1506 Longworth Office Building, Washington, DC 20515, 202-225-5506;

--US Senator, Ron Johnson, 328 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510, 202-224-5323;

--US Senator, Tammy Baldwin, 717 Hart Office Building, Washington, DC 20510, 202-224-5653.