Village explores high-speed Internet options
By Jane Myhra
Fiber is the future was the message presented at a high-speed Internet meeting on Thursday, March 31.
At the meeting sponsored by the Iola-Scandinavia Chamber of Commerce, representatives from local telephone companies discussed options for providing high-speed Internet to the area.
High-speed Internet service is currently available in the I-S area through TDS Telecom, according to John Schwartz, of TDS Telecom.
“There is broadband here,” Schwartz said.
Laying down fiber optic cable is another way to increase Internet speed, according to Rick Letto, general manager of the Amherst Telephone Company.
“Fiber is a very costly but effective form of service,” he said.
With fiber, Letto said the Amherst Telephone Company is able to provide enhanced Internet and video services.
“Fiber is probably the best way, but it is not the only way,” said Tom Iverson, plant manager for Amherst Telephone Company.
Internet service is also provided via satellite and from other companies, he said.
“More and more people want Internet and the local channels,” Letto said. “The dynamics are changing and pushing towards the Internet and the need for speed.”
He said the demand for high speed Internet has increased. Some homes were fine with 10 megabits five years ago, but today they want at least 100-200 megabits. Letto noted businesses often require higher speeds for Internet service than the average residence. The current options in Iola for both business and residential service are more limited.
According to Letto, having access to fiber optic Internet increases the value of a home.
Iverson said he is often asked by Realtors to verify a home has high speed service prior to its being sold.
One of the reasons for the current demand is the Iola Car Show needs more bandwidth to service the event, said Larry Fechter, ICS managing director.
A challenge many rural communities face is the cost of fiber installation is high, so it can be difficult to attract providers to invest in small communities.
“For three days, the Iola Car Show becomes a big city and the usage is there,” Fechter said. “We are trying to take care of our problem and maybe go a little bit farther.”
“The entire I-S area has an appetite for information,” said Joe Opperman, ICS public relations and marketing director. “At a recent I-S Chamber of Commerce meeting, this was a much discussed topic and was in fact identified as an area in need of addressing as a community.”
“Iola has a lot of great things going for it, but we always need to plan for the future,” he said. “A business or young family looking for a nice place to reside today is absolutely considering this as an infrastructural need. Amherst Telephone Company has been wonderful to work with on our Car Show needs, and they may represent an opportunity for the greater community as well.”
Mary Olson, of Iola Tax Place, said the area needs to meet the needs of the remote worker. She said more and more people are working from home and have greater data requirements.
Letto said the state of Wisconsin has grants available to help bring broadband to rural areas. These grants help cover about 10-20 percent of the installation cost.
According to Letto, the Amherst Telephone Company has a statewide franchise to provide video services.
Iverson said the Internet is unregulated, so franchises are not required.
The Amherst Telephone Company currently serves the Amherst, Rosholt and Custer area. As part of the Wisconsin Independent Network, it has expanded service to outlying areas, such as Stevens Point and areas of Waupaca County.
“This is an important first step in improving our infrastructure for the village,” Opperman said. “The next steps will be to include the rest of the chamber and the village in this sort of informational discussion.”
“It is very important for the Iola-Scandinavia area to be able to meet the Internet needs of our current residents and businesses and exceed expectations of those desiring to relocate to the area,” Olson said.
“It was an encouraging meeting,” said Donovan Brooke, of Euca Design, a website building and web hosting business. “Ethernet over fiber is the way to go, so I was encouraged that it was the primary topic of conversation.”
Brooke is hopeful there will “end up being some good options coming to the village eventually.”
“We currently co-locate our servers in a larger city in Wisconsin, but if the Iola area were to increase its available bandwidth, we could consider physically moving our servers here,” Brooke said. “I am looking to service more local customers. Bringing Euca’s infrastructure closer would make that all work easier.”
He believes increasing bandwidth will help attract businesses to the area.
“What is nice about having bandwidth available in these smaller and beautiful areas is that companies can justify having offices here,” Brooke said. “So, I think it’s important that solutions happen.”