PRESS EDITORIAL: Close those black internet holes

Wisconsin is a laggard in internet access. The state ranks a dismal 41st among the states in providing this essential infrastructure.

It has been no secret that rural areas of Wisconsin, especially in the northern and western parts of the state, have unreliable or non-existent broadband service. But not enough attention has been paid to the void in high-speed internet availability right here in Ozaukee County.

An eye-opening news story in last week’s Ozaukee Press reported that many county residents and a number of businesses, including those located in a large area just north of the City of Port Washington, do not have dependable access to high-speed internet service.

Living and doing business without a broadband connection in 2020 is about like being without electricity in the mid-20th century. That this is the reality in Ozaukee County, which is adjacent to the state’s biggest metropolitan area, is largely suburban in character and, for good measure, is ranked as the state’s wealthiest county per capita, is hard to swallow.

The electricity analogy is fitting. Broadband should be a public utility like electric power. Providers should be stringently regulated by the Public Service Commission and their cases for failing to extend high-speed internet to some areas of the state subjected to independent review.

But as things stand, private internet service providers determine who gets service. It’s all about profit. If providing broadband to a less densely populated area is not a moneymaker, it’s not going to happen.

The Wisconsin PSC does have a role in internet service. Its Wisconsin Broadband Office surveys broadband access in the state and distributes grants to encourage expansion of high-speed internet coverage.

The PSC, however, has not had a lot to distribute, even though it has been obvious for years that a spur to public investment is needed. In 2013, the state set up a broadband expansion program, but Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature failed to fund it. In the period 2014-2017, Wisconsin spent a mere $3.9 million on broadband, compared to $85 million invested by Minnesota. Though that sprawling state has more rural area than Wisconsin, it is rated as having the ninth best internet service in the nation.

Wisconsin is doing better now, spending $48 million over two years to fund Gov. Tony Evers’ plan to push broadband into unserved areas. The intent is to give towns, municipalities and school districts the wherewithal to establish public broadband infrastructure, which in turn will attract private internet providers. The lure for these companies will be business expansion, which is fine as long it benefits areas truly in need rather than merely improving corporate bottom lines.

“Truly in need” describes the Town of Port Washington, which has large gaps in internet service and has applied for a $60,000 grant to provide a cable internet connection to one area of 30 homes. The grant application is being managed by Charter Communications, which will reap some of the benefits of the state money by acquiring new customers.

May it happen soon. Technology built the world we’re living in. People deprived of access to its cyber enrichments are second-class citizens of this world.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494
 

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