Waupaca Online to reach more rural areas
By Robert Cloud
Waupaca County continues to collect data on a survey regarding area broadband services.
The goal is to find areas where the county, working in conjunction with Waupaca Online, can find customers for internet access.
What the survey and other research has found is that 12 percent of the county’s residents do not have access to the internet, while 86.5 percent currently subscribe to a service.
Of those who do have access, 73 percent are dissatisfied with their service provider.
Jessica Beckendorf, the community development educator with Waupaca County UW-Extension, said respondents indicated they were dissatisfied with the quality and consistency of the service, the speed and bandwidth available.
The survey found the No. 1 reason for dissatisfaction was the service was too expensive.
“Some said they only have access on their phones, which makes it difficult to find a job or pay taxes,” Beckendorf said.
“There’s a lack of competition,” according to County Planner Ryan Brown, who is working with Beckendorf and a committee to spearhead efforts to expand broadband services in Waupaca County. “They’re forced into whatever terms the provider is offering.”
The county is sending out a second round of surveys because some communities were underrepresented by the number of responses.
The cities of Weyauwega, Clintonville and Marion; the villages of Ogdensburg and Big Falls; and the towns of Harrison, Helvetia and St. Lawrence have been targeted for more responses.
“We received only 13 responses from Clintonville,” Beckendorf said. “We could use at least another 13.”
“What we want to do overall is to get a good feel countywide,” Brown said.
To encourage more responses, the county has enclosed self-addressed stamped envelopes with the surveys.
Brown noted quality internet access is a vital component to a 21st-century economy.
“People would be more willing to telecommute or start a business if they had good internet access,” Brown said.
The survey found that 28.7 percent of respondents said “yes” when asked, “Would you be likely to start, move or grow a business (including from home) in Waupaca County if you had access to adequate internet services?”
A related economic issue is Waupaca County’s aging population.
To encourage businesses to expand or move to the county, there needs to be an adequate workforce.
However, the working age group of 25-64 in Waupaca County is projected to decline between 5 percent and 10 percent, according to figures from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.
“Younger people will not move to an area without quality broadband,” Brown said.
The county has already taken steps to expand internet services by working with Waupaca Online.
“Using our county-owned infrastructure, you can expand coverage without needing new telecoms from the outside,” Brown said.
Waupaca Online can co-locate its equipment on the county’s emergency communications towers.
In 2018, the county plans to erect a 100-foot tower at the Waupaca County Processing and Transfer Facility near Manawa and an 80-foot tower at Bear Creek’s town hall.
Brown said Waupaca Online’s equipment can also be installed on any tall structure, such as a water tower or a DNR fire tower.
“It’s easy, it’s fast, it’s cheap,” Brown said.
Typically, it costs nearly $250,000 to build a cell tower, Brown said.
He said the county initially tried to work with private telecom companies, but they were not interested in expanding outside their own territories.
So, the county began working with the city-owned Waupaca Online.
As the Waupaca County Post reported in June, Josh Werner, the city’s IT and community media director, applied for a Wisconsin Public Service Commission Broadband Expansion Grant.
The goal was to expand into areas in the county with no or low-quality local internet.
The towns of Bear Creek, Caledonia, Dupont, Fremont, Larrabee, Lebanon, Little Wolf, Lind and Union were identified as areas where Waupaca Online could expand.
In August, Gov. Scott Walker came to the area to announce Waupaca Online would receive a $32,815 state grant.
The grant will cover 45 percent of the project’s estimated $72,756 cost.
The remaining costs will be covered by 45 percent from reserves and 10 percent from user fees.
Beckendorf described the county’s efforts to expand broadband as a town-driven initiative.
“The county is acting as a facilitator, but the towns told us this was important,” Beckendorf said.
Angie Landsverk contributed to this article.