A group of rural residents living east of Madison, Wisconsin, gathered near Portage of Columbia County to discuss their lack of affordable high speed access to the Internet. These are people for whom slow, overpriced DSL would be an improvement.
Lack of access to the Internet is a drain on rural economies -- their real estate market suffer and they are unable to telecommute, when they would benefit more from it than most who do have the option. They lack access to long-distance education opportunities in a time when the cost of gas makes driving to school prohibitively expensive.
Andy Lewis, who has been working with the Building Community Capacity through Broadband Project
with U-W Extension, was on hand to discuss some of the lessons learned through their work, which is largely funded by a broadband stimulus award.
The incumbent providers encouraged residents without access to aggregate their demand and create petitions to demonstrate the available demand. Of course they did. And if CenturyLink decides it can get a sufficient return on its slow and unreliable DSL, they will build it out to some of those unserved areas. This is a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" scenario for rural residents. DSL was starting to be obsolete years ago
The better solution is finding nearby cooperatives and munis that will extend next-generation networks that can provide fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet. Getting a DSL to a town will do very little to attract residents and nothing to attract businesses. It is a 20th century technology in a rapidly evolving 21st century world.
The Beaver Dam Daily Citizen covered the meeting
, which eventually turned away from how to beg for broadband to how they can build it themselves:
But several attendees asked why the government can't play a role in making high-speed service available everywhere, in the same way that the government helped bring about rural electrification and telephone service.
This is a very good question. They may decide not to follow that path, but given the importance of access to the Internet, they should look at options for building a network that puts community needs first.