Expanding broadband access in the Northwoods is something area officials will often refer to when talking about keys to future economic development. The town of Three Lakes has been at the forefront of the issue in recent years, making it an emphasis of its 20-year comprehensive plan.
"We believed it was going to be crucial for everything we want to do in the next 20 years," said Don Sidlowski, Three Lakes town board chairman. About 90 percent of Three Lakes residents now have access to up to four different providers of high-speed broadband.
Now another area township is looking to follow Three Lakes' lead.
As Newbold officials finalized the town's 2013 budget last week in preparation for the annual budget hearing, supervisor Scott Eshelman suggested adding a line-item and reserving some funds to begin doing some broadband reconnaissance in the Newbold area. His fellow supervisors agreed and $500 was removed from the town's contingency fund and put into a "broadband research" budget line-item.
Eshelman said those funds will help Newbold get started on the first step of expanding broadband access: determining exactly who does and doesn't have Internet service and at what level that service is at.
"We have a lot of people here who live out in the woods," Eshelman said. "I don't know if they have broadband or would even want it, but we should give them the chance."
Eshelman said not having high-speed Internet should be a person's choice, not the decision of a provider who simply doesn't want to expand to a certain area.
"I think, if this budget item passes, we will find out (a lot about what kind of service Newbold residents have)," Eshelman said. "I think a town has much more bargaining power than an individual resident does. I thought the town could use its influence that way (with providers)."
Sidlowski said it's good to see another town beginning to pursue what has been called the "Three Lakes model." Step one is a town board changing its mindset and committing funds to the effort. Step two is taking an inventory of what's currently available in the town and deciding what broadband options to pursue. The next steps involve making contacts with service providers and beginning to establish agreements to build that broadband infrastructure.
"The fact is, in rural Wisconsin, we're going to have to take the initiative if we want high-speed broadband for our residents," Sidlowski said. "If we wait for providers to come to us, we'll be waiting forever. We have good providers. We just need to make it easy for them."
Sidlowski has worked hard to spread that message. He's the author of a broadband investment plan for the LinkWISCONSIN Region 2 initiative (encompassing Oneida, Vilas, Forest, Langlade and Lincoln counties). The plan takes the "Three Lakes model" but applies it to the five-county region. In just the last two months, he's given presentations at a UW-Extension broadband summit in Madison, the Wisconsin Towns Association annual convention, and to officials in Phelps, Manitowish Waters and Florence County.
"As more and more of these communities not only get it, but like Newbold, start to set aside local dollars so they can take proactive action sooner than later, we'll start to do what 50 states have only talked about in the vaguest of terms, which is to light up an entire rural region with high-speed Internet and mobile phone coverage," Sidlowski said.
"That both encourages but more importantly enables people to leave the city and relocate to our region for not only the quality of life but the oh-so-much-more we have to offer. Think of the economic impact that will have on the Northwoods," he added.
Sidlowski said the issue is never-ending. The first phase of the work in Three Lakes won't be complete until 100 percent of the residents have access to at least one high-speed Internet provider, he said. Beyond that, it's a matter of continuously evaluating and improving.
"It's going to continue to evolve," Sidlowski said, citing other examples of area efforts such as the Oneida County Board of Supervisors' new technology committee that was set to meet for the first time Monday.
But, he noted, it's particularly encouraging to see Three Lakes serving as the inspiration for more efforts at the town level as it is in Newbold.
"(Three Lakes) is a success story about local government flipping the paradigm and against all odds creating the kind of high-speed Internet and cell phone coverage network that approaches the quality of what has so far been thought to be available only in large cities," Sidlowski said. "This has been made possible only by taking control of the process and not waiting for the technology to come to us."
Kyle Rogers may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted: Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Article comment by:
We want to be part of that broadband reconnaissance. There's broadband two miles in every direction but not here, in the McNaughton area, Newbold Township. Promises, promises, but no cigar.
The Northwoods River News | Walker Communications, LLC 232 S. Courtney Street, Rhinelander, WI 54501 | Office (715) 365-6397 | Fax (715) 365-6361
Corporate billing office: The Lakeland Times / Lakeland Printing Inc. | P.O. Box 790, Minocqua, WI 54548 | (715) 356-5236 | Fax (715) 358-2121 Members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, Wisconsin Community Papers, Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce, Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce