Horizon appears bright for county broadband initiative

Jeremy Ratliff
Thanks to an initiative spearheaded by the Lincoln County Administrative and Legislative Committee earlier this year, rural Lincoln residents may have access to affordable high speed internet service as early as next year.
According to Art Lersch of the county UW-Extension office, the initiative was launched in January, following a motion from the county board directing Administrative Coordinator Randy Scholz, in collaboration with the Administrative and Legislative Committee and UW Extension office, to pursue expansion of broadband internet service into the rural reaches of the county.
“Most county board members felt this is a business related measure that will improve economic development throughout county, including rural areas.” Lersch explains.
“When we have engaged in discussions with members from the Administrative and Legislative Committee, the feeling out there is this idea is a public good.”
Since its inception, the initiative is seemingly rolling along full speed ahead.
Over the past few months, Lersch and Scholz have engaged in “town hall” style meetings with town boards and citizens, to assess what current internet service is like in rural Lincoln County, and what current needs exist.
Lersch also recently gave a presentation on the topic, to the Wisconsin Towns Association in Lincoln County.
“For the most part, people are disappointed with their current service.”
“Generally speaking, their current internet service is not fast enough and there just isn’t enough capacity to do what they want to do.”
Other aspects of the initiative which are being pursued include soliciting townships to partake in surveys, as well an educational component.
As Lersch explains, Administrative Coordinator Randy Scholz recently secured a key asset for the initiative, when connecting with Don Sidlowski of the Northwoods Broadband and Economic Development Coalition.
“Don has been very involved with educating our stakeholders.” Lersch adds.
“He has been providing presentations regarding a project he completed where he brought broadband internet service to Three Lakes. As a result of that project, he expanded a service which was very simplistic at best and in some cases no service at all, to what is now considered very adequate broadband service.
“A lot of what we are doing now, in part is based on what we have learned from Mr. Sidlowski”
During its June 16th meeting, Scholz, Lersch and their team garnered county board approval in adopting a ‘goal to pursue the best possible broadband availability for the entire county in terms of speed, adoption rate and data capacity.’
The board further called for the Administrative and Legislative Committee to continue to partner with Lersch and the UW Extension Office, County Economic Development Corporation and County Information Technology Department, in achieving that goal.
As if expanding broadband infrastructure to rural areas wasn’t enough good news for county residents, the icing on the cake could come in the form of the expansion coming at zero cost to county tax payers.
According to Lersch, following discussions with Frontier Communications, the company accepted funding offered by the Connect America Fund to expand broadband service in Lincoln County.
According to its website;
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) created the Connect America Fund last year when it reformed and modernized the Universal Service Fund, which connected rural America to the telephone network in the 20th century.
In the first phase, about $115 million of public funding will be coupled with tens of millions more in private investment to quickly expand broadband infrastructure to rural communities in every region of the nation.
The fund aims to connect 7 million unserved rural Americans to broadband in six years, and puts the nation on a path to connect all 19 million unserved rural residents by 2020.
Connect America’s impact in Lincoln County could begin as early as the spring of 2016. The end result will be broadband internet speeds of 10MB/s in most areas, with some areas achieving speeds as fast as 25 MB/sec.
Frontier has shown interest in making a formal presentation of the project at some point later this year.
“This will be something that will take some time, but will be well worth the wait.” Lersch adds with a smile.

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