Brian Roebke photo
Brown County BCCAN Director August Neverman, former Morrison Town Chairman Tom Kempen, Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach, Morrison Town Clerk Colleen Magley, and New North VP of Business Development Barbara Koldos attended last week’s press conference at the Morrison Town Hall to encourage Brown County residents to take the internet connect survey at browncountywi.gov.
By Brian Roebke
Many residents in the rural portions of Brown County have struggled for years with internet service.
There are a variety of government programs available to help fund expansion of good internet service but the competition is fierce.
One issue Brown County has is the state of Wisconsin and Public Service Commission are using flawed data to base their decisions on, but all Brown County residents can help in two ways.
Brown County is mailing information about a survey and speed test directly to rural homes and businesses. New North is also encouraging residents in their 18-county region to take the Wisconsin Internet Self-Report survey and speed test to provide critical data the county needs to obtain funding.
The link to the survey is accessible from browncountywi.gov or you can take the survey by phone at 608-261-6026. Surveys need to be completed by the end of November.
If people have taken the speed test before, they should take it again. They should also encourage their family and neighbors to take the test that shows the actual internet speed they are getting from that spot.
Brown County and New North are calling on the PSC and the state of Wisconsin to distribute grant funds to unserved and underserved areas using actual speed data rather than advertised speed data to reflect a more accurate picture of the internet connectivity issues facing our communities.
There is currently $1 billion in funding available from the federal government in Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment grants that will be awarded by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.
“In order for us to become competitive, we need people to do this,” Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach said last week at a press conference at the Morrison Town Hall.
Joining Streckenbach at the press conference were Barbara Koldos, vice president of business development for New North Inc. and a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband Access; Brown County BCCAN Director August Neverman, former Morrison town chairman and county task force member Tom Kempen, and Morrison Town Clerk Colleen Magley.
“This is critically important for us,” Streckenbach said.
Brown County has applied for grants three times but unsuccessful because they do not have the necessary data to help support their case for competitively winning these awards.
“Part of this is to go to the WISER Survey and the speed test called OPTI speed test on the county website and write letters to the county expressing your experience overall with internet in your community,” Streckenbach said. Letters can be from home or business experience.
They’re hoping by the end of November residents of Brown County and Northeastern Wisconsin will fill out the survey giving them the data that’s necessary to be able to apply for these grants and then be competitive when they are awarded.
The COVID-19 pandemic really exposed the issue that was brewing when adults were working remotely from home and their children were being educated from home. Streaming video became more popular during that time and many people did not have the necessary connections to be able to do it all.
“It is our desire that everyone here in Brown County, from school-aged youth to young entrepreneurs, small business owners and older adults have fast internet speeds in order to navigate our interconnected world,” Streckenbach said.
Magley, who was happy the county executive came to a small town with a population of 1,698, gave a story of a town resident who had to work from home and had to move out of town during the week so she could do her job.
“On weekends she can come back here,” Magley said. Since she doesn’t live in Morrison during the week, she can’t vote the day of elections and must vote absentee.
She told of a farmer in the town who sometimes has trouble connecting to the town web page so he can apply for a permit to legally drive on a town road.
Her husband was on dialysis and because the internet is poor there, he cannot do home dialysis and sumbit vitals to the health care provider.
The grants allow cost sharing with a telecommunications company to bring fiber connections to specific areas that are underserved or unserved.
Telecommunications companies typically get “more bang for their buck” in urban areas because there are more homes that pay for the service. It can be a very long time before they can get financial payback in rural areas that have fewer connections and more landscape and topography challenges. That’s why the government is providing grants.
“There are things that make it cost prohibitive in some cases that make it difficult for residents, specifically in our rural areas, to receive that affordable, reliable, high-speed internet that we all know today is critical for us to be successful in the community,” Streckenbach said.
He added people can go online and look at a map that shows which properties have taken the test. “If you want to bring high speed to your area, we have to prove there is no service available or not enough service available,” he said.
“High-speed internet access has become critical infrastructure in today’s world,” said Barbara Koldos, vice president of business development for New North Inc. and a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband Access.
“Strong engagement with residents and businesses throughout the New North region, particularly in rural areas, will have big benefits. We encourage everyone who can to take the internet connectivity survey.”
Survey info will be used to inform the state’s 5-year Action Plan for Broadband, which is part of the Internet for All Programs, specifically the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment and Digital Equity initiatives, funded through the Bipartisan Infra-structure Law.