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April 27, 2009 Rural residents w/o high speed internet
TAKE THE SURVEY
Take the Public Service Commission broadband survey at
http://psc.wi.gov/recoveryAct/sfBroadband.htm. If you donít have
Internet access, call the Telecommunications Division at
Rural residents without high-speed Internet struggle to keep up
By MATTHEW DeFOUR
Doug King publishes his keyboard music online and his wife, Marjorie,
sells home-made pottery to customers in Iceland, China and New
Zealand. But doing business from their rural Dane County house is
virtually impossible without high-speed Internet.
"We got to the point where weíre simply unable to do business" using
the dial-up Internet their phone company provides, King said. The
couple finally signed up for a wireless modem from Verizon, which in
the last year has sought to build nine cell towers in rural Dane
County to keep up with growing demand.
But wireless service isnít available everywhere, either, leaving
thousands of rural Wisconsin homeowners, entrepreneurs and farmers
still clamoring for high-speed Internet service.
Help may be on the way after Congress included $7.2 billion in the
federal stimulus bill to extend high-speed Internet to rural areas.
Even so, large parts of Wisconsin may lose out on the federal funds
because few citizens have responded to a statewide survey aimed at
identifying which areas donít have broadband service ó an Internet
connection that can process many times more voice, data and video
information than dial-up phone lines.
As of April 16, the Public Service Commission, which is conducting the
survey, had heard from about 3,900 citizens and businesses
representing 85,000 employees. Two-thirds of respondents reported not
having access to high-speed Internet service.
The PSC plans to use the survey results to advise the federal
government on which local governments and service providers should get
stimulus funds, said PSC telecommunications administrator Gary
"Weíd like to get responses from everyone," Evenson said. "The more
responses we get the better."
Like the Kings, Stephanie Elkins, of rural Green County, turned to
satellite service after waiting for broadband to come to her area, but
"even that is slow and limited," she said.
In 2000, Elkinsí husband Roy founded Broadjam.com, an online music
distribution company that had to move to Madison to access faster
Internet. In naming the company, they anticipated broadband would be
necessary for sharing music files online.
"Itís ironic that here we are 10 years later without any broadband
service at our home," Elkins said.
Bill Esbeck, president of the Wisconsin State Telecommunications
Association, is skeptical the survey paints an accurate picture of
broadband service in the state. He said he would rather see
collaboration among telephone, wireless and cable companies to
identify where service needs exist.
His concern about the federal funding is that it may come with strings
attached. For example, companies that install broadband networks with
grant money could be required to share any infrastructure they build.
"Clearly there are companies in Wisconsin that have already made the
investment," Esbeck said. He noted a 2007 report from the Federal
Communications Commission found Wisconsin telephone companies offer
high-speed Internet to 81 percent of the state, one percentage point
shy of the national average.
State Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, said he has fielded
hundreds of complaints from constituents who still canít get
connected. "Iíve got kids who canít access the Internet to do their
homework," Schultz said. "Thatís intolerable."
Schultz urged residents to respond to the PSC survey, which will be
available at least until summer. Guidelines on federal grant and loan
applications are expected by June.
"Our future depends on us being able to access the global
marketplace," Shultz said. "We donít want to be on the wrong side of
the digital divide."
TAKE THE SURVEY
Take the Public Service Commission broadband survey at
http://psc.wi.gov/recoveryAct/sfBroadband.htm. If you donít have
Internet access, call the Telecommunications Division at 608-267-2893.
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