WAUSAU, WI (WSAU) — It may be hard to believe but even in 2018 high-speed internet service is considered a luxury to some living in Marathon County.
That was the theme of a joint meeting between the County’s Infrastructure and Extension, Education, and Economic Development Committees Thursday night at the Marathon County Courthouse.
“A big report was done in 2009, and when I was reviewing that report in this last week I was surprised at just how much of it sounded exactly the same as what we are saying today,” said E3DC Chair Sara Guild. She says back then we didn’t know how important high-speed internet would become, but now it’s gotten to a point where you can’t afford to be without it. “[Things aren’t going] very far very fast, and the County has determined it does play a role in getting broadband to expand because it hasn’t happened on its own.”
According to diagrams presented at the meeting the issue truly is spread county-wide, with the worst pockets located in the northeast, northwest, and south-central portions.
Infrastructure committee chair John Robinson said the number of services that rely on a powerful internet signal is surprising including public safety. “The new advanced E911 service is going to be affected by the internet and wifi. There are different ways of calling into 911 now, landlines are things of the past.” During the meeting, others brought up examples of schools equipping their busses with wifi to allow students to upload homework on their way to and from class because of a lack of reliable internet at home.
Guild added that the 2009 study showed over 30% of respondents planned to start some sort of home business, and having access to high-speed internet (currently defined as a minimum of 25MBPS download and 3MBPS upload). Add to that the number of people who desire work from home or telecommute, and you have a large swath of the population for which that access becomes a necessity for doing business and attracting talent. “If we want to maintain our workforce, which is the other big issue we have these days. Workforce, workforce, workforce means broadband, broadband, broadband.”
Both Guild and Robinson emphasized that the county can’t create competition by creating its own Internet Service Provider. State law says that counties can’t offer those services on their own. Although Robinson said he would like to see more competition among ISP’s in the county to possibly push broadband access into those troubled pockets.
Both committees will continue to hold discussions over the next few months with the goal of having final recommendations to move the issue forward within a year. Guild says that could mean conversations with other groups including UW Extension and the Marathon County Public Library system.