Columbia County officials are learning how all citizens can access high-speed internet. A new committee invites a major Internet service provider and local officials to its next meeting.
The Broadband Ad Hoc Committee was formed in August after Sup. Char Holtan suggested using $500,000 of American Rescue Plan Act funds to help provide high-speed Internet access to citizens. The committee is expected to invite clerks from all 35 county municipalities to its next meeting in November to explain the committee’s purpose and possible funding.
A survey was sent to all 35 municipalities, but county clerk Sue Moll said only 13 responded. Of those 13, a number said they would like to learn more by attending a meeting or possibly helping financially connect the county.
The county received $11.1 million in ARPA funds and currently has approximately $216,000 remaining. A full list of how Columbia County has used ARPA funds is available at the county website on the accounting department page.
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Committee members discussed inviting representatives from Spectrum to attend their November 17 meeting.
Holtan said his internet in Friesland was good but not great. She said she had heard from other people who told her they still had DSL internet. The committee also briefly discussed satellite Internet reliability issues.
On Thursday afternoon, the committee met to get information from various groups, including a Wisconsin State Broadband Office official, telephone company staff and an Iowa county official who is trying to connect the entire county of Iowa to the Internet by fiber optics.
Jaron McCallum of the Wisconsin Broadband Office, part of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, explained that the county has a number of financial opportunities with state and federal grants.
Committee members asked McCallum about coverage maps and why they are difficult to obtain. He said the maps are a good starting point but just aren’t accurate enough to know which addresses in the county have internet access and what the speed is.
The committee was asked by the county council to provide it with data, mainly financial information, on the county’s connection with fiber optic lines. Supper. Tess Car sits on the committee and discussed how fiber optic is her preferred connection.
“The fiber optic connection is what we’re looking for,” Carr said. “It seems like going wireless and relying on hotspots would be a last resort.”
Iowa County Administrator Larry Bierke was also invited to speak to the committee. He was tasked with getting high-speed internet access to all residents of Iowa County in 2016. Bierke explained that he had worked with many providers and explained the confusion over the fact to work with these companies.
“These are the cards you’ll want to look at and they won’t let you down,” Bierke said. He also said Iowa County tried to establish wireless connections with hotspots, but it didn’t work.
“Fiber optics is the gold standard,” Bierke said.
The third group was the Marquette-Adams telephone cooperative. It has been providing internet to customers since 2011 and since 2014 it has all fiber optic lines.
CEO Jerry Schneider said the co-op is already in Columbia County and could help with parts of the county but could not help with the entire county.
“We can reach the northern part of Columbia County,” Schneider said. “We have no ambition to serve all of Columbia County. It’s just too big for us.
Committee members also learned that a new set of Internet service maps may be released in the near future that will be more accurate than the maps currently available. These maps would be helpful in assessing where the county has connectivity issues.
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