ELLSWORTH - State technology officials offered no quick solutions Monday for bringing broadband connections to rural communities, but restated their commitment to address the longstanding problem.
There are plans in motion to expand access to high-speed internet service across the state, Wisconsin Chief Information Officer David Cagigal told a gathering of government and business representatives at Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services - though he cautioned the journey will be long.
“I can read your minds, and you’re saying ‘not fast enough,’” Cagigal said. “So we’re going to try to do everything we can to see if we can leverage our resources both public and private to get the state of Wisconsin wired, including Ellsworth.”
Among the strategies outlined is the Broadband Forward! Community Certification Program. The initiative, announced by Gov. Scott Walker on July 5, is designed to streamline the permitting process for broadband projects for participating local governments.
“Improving the speed and efficiency of broadband throughout Wisconsin is crucial to the continued economic success of our communities,” Walker wrote in a news release. “The Broadband Forward! Community certification allows communities to distinguish themselves by eliminating obstacles to infrastructure investment.”
At issue is the economics of service providers installing broadband in areas with low population density, where it could cost several thousand dollars to connect a single home.
Cagigal said the state is trying to work closely with Frontier, Century Link and AT&T to identify areas with the highest demand for broadband.
“And we get that from you,” he told the audience. “You help us provide that information for demand, so that they can adjust their priorities. … And so far all three of them have been waiting to hear that.”
Years of frustration
Audience members voiced frustration over years of discussion on broadband with still no foreseeable developments.
“I have received more calls on this than anything else put together,” said Michael Kahlow, a Pierce County Board supervisor and chair of the Information Services committee. He described some of the language callers use as “colorful.”
Lack of broadband access can reduce the property value of a house in Pierce County by $10,000 or more, he added. “That’s a real substantial impact.”
Cagigal and State Broadband Director Angie Dickison were in Ellsworth as part of the governor’s Cabinet on the Road series.
Broadband has been brought up at a majority of Walker’s recent public listening sessions, Cagigal said. “So he’s aware of this issue.”