County group conducting survey
By Ben Rodgers
A lack of broadband internet access in Waupaca County has one group using a survey to help find solutions to slow speeds.
Leadership Waupaca County, part of Waupaca County UW Extension, along with the Waupaca County Planning and Zoning and the Waupaca County Economic Development Corporation have released a survey as the first step in bringing faster internet speeds to the area.
“In our developed areas, the urban areas, there’s options for broadband internet,” said Ryan Brown, director of Waupaca County Planning and Zoning. “Once you get out into the country there’s fewer options or less service. We have a lot of areas where there’s no service, or where there is, it’s underperforming and does not meet the federal definition of broadband.”
The federal definition of broadband is download speeds of 25 megabits per second and upload speeds of three megabits per second.
Brown, along with Dave Thiel, executive director of the Waupaca County Economic Development Corporation, are serving as mentors to Leadership Waupaca County during the survey process. That doesn’t mean they don’t understand the importance of fast internet.
“Broadband internet is an extremely important economic development tool,” Brown said. “Several businesses require broadband internet. One of the largest, fastest growing small business developments we’re seeing is in the country, and in order for them to develop or establish themselves broadband internet is a requirement.”
Outside of urban areas in Waupaca County coverage can be spotty. Often times it has to do with being away from population centers, but sometimes even topographical features can impede speeds.
“Basically if you drew a circle around all those cities and villages, when you get outside of that circle, those are the areas that are being targeted,” Brown said.
One of the participants in Leadership Waupaca County Brown has been working with is Deric Hahn.
“Thankfully we were just able to hop on that train that was already rolling and they assisted us with funding and a bit of direction,” Hahn said of Brown and Thiel.
As a student going for his master’s of business administration, Hahn himself has experienced some frustration when it comes to lack of high speed internet.
He and his wife currently use a satellite for download speeds of three megabits per second. Still it doesn’t do the job for his schoolwork.
“I can’t even view lectures online for my MBA coursework. So that’s something that personally affects me,” he said.
As a 34-year old business student Hahn also understands the shift in population demographics; Baby boomers are getting older, there’s fewer who would fall into Generation X and millennials are now the population group that can drive economic growth.
“Wisconsin as a whole has a shortage right now,” he said. “We have a shortage of caregivers, entrepreneurs, innovators, a lot of younger people are leaving the state for more attractive opportunities.”
Broadband internet is one of the areas that would be easy to address and help keep younger people in the area.
“They’re born with technology, but we have a divide and we have employers that cannot attract young talent due to the lack of high speed internet,” Hahn said.
But it’s not just millennials and the business climate that can benefit from faster internet. Educators in K-12 are increasingly using the internet for students’ assignments. Some of these students without access need to go to a parking lot with Wi-Fi in order to complete their homework.
Moreover, the aging population can have an improved quality of life by doing online doctors’ appointments.
“People can potentially stay at home longer instead of going into nursing homes with the help of high speed internet,” Hahn said.
The next step will be to take the aggregate data from the survey and use it to apply for broadband grants from the state. Hahn said that could be done as soon as June.
The survey can be found online at https://uwex.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_3IaAoxwT1KdrZDD . The survey will be available until April 30.