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Data sought for high-speed Internet needs

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provides about $7.2 billion to enhance the "deployment of broadband (high-speed Internet) technology to rural, un-served and under-served areas..."

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission is asking the public to provide input via an online survey. Complete it through the end of May at:

The parameters of the federal stimulus funding are not yet determined, so information collected will help identify existing needs that stimulus dollars could address.

Need indeed

Residents and officials in the towns of River Falls, Troy and Clifton agree that many people in their neighborhood simply cannot get high-speed Internet access.

According to most sources, access usually comes through the phone line, cable line, from wireless towers or through a roof-mounted satellite.

Isaac Grover, owner of Quality Computer Services in River Falls, said the companies providing the access, often called Internet Service Providers (ISPs), must be able to see a positive return when considering the cost of building infrastructure (like new cable or towers).

"Given that high-speed Internet access can be purchased for as little as $20 per month, it would take many years before those companies see a positive return once they provide access to a rural area," Grover said.

Town of Troy resident and leader of an unofficial broadband committee, Warren Vollmar, said about investigating broadband, "We've been active on this for about a year."

The group contacted providers to see what they offer and did a telephone survey of residents asking about their current usage of and preferences for Internet and telephone.

It found that nearly everyone expressed some level of concern about access and what technology will work for the future. About 40% of the people living in Troy have home businesses and really need high-speed access.

Everyone wants the best speed and reliability. Vollmar said, "I have satellite because I have no choice. So do a lot of other people," agreeing that the technology has a delay and isn't that much faster than a dial-up connection.

The group will soon meet with city of River Falls officials, which he says has also been investigating options. Troy is also informally exploring options with Baldwin Telecom, Inc.

Vollmar said those in charge of disbursing the stimulus dollars have not yet decided what constitutes rural. He wonders if Troy will qualify because of its proximity to the Twin Cities.

Troy has contacted state legislators, asking them to help steer stimulus money to rural areas.

Town of River Falls resident and town supervisor Brad Mogen said, "We have received more and more complaints about high-speed Internet."

He said he and many of his fellow employees at UW-River Falls can save money by working at home. Like many others in his town, Mogen doesn't have that option.

A super-slow dial-up connection proves an obstacle to telecommuting, running a home business, taking an online course, reading the paper and other normal online activities.

"This should be a regional issue," he said. "Everyone needs it these days."

Mogen has dial-up access and confirms Grover's assessment that the ISP companies "go by" a density requirement to initiate service. Mogen once procured a wireless provider's high-speed Internet-access card, but it uses cell-tower signals and didn't work in the valley where he lives.

"I know there are lots of 'dead zones' in the town of River Falls," said Mogen.

He's aware of the satellite option but says the transmission to and from space causes a delay, plus the signal is at the "whim of the weather."

Mogen said the town has also contacted its state representatives and that Rep. Kitty Rhoades has been "very responsive" and good about sharing updates. Nearly everyone recognizes that the details aren't yet determined, but interest in the stimulus dollars is high.

Town of Clifton Chairman LeRoy Peterson said, "We've got some inquiries about it now."

He said the issue is on the next Town Board meeting agenda. He understands that access is subject to a company's desire to provide the service or not.

Peterson said he's fielded calls from plenty of town residents interested in getting broadband service. He doesn't have it and isn't aware of it being available in Clifton in any form.

"I know there are folks who would like to have the service," he said.

The Journal made unsuccessful attempts to contact the town of Kinnickinnic chairman as well as a representative from local ISP PressEnter.

For more state-level information about broadband efforts in Wisconsin, contact Gary Evenson at the PSC at 608-266-6744 or via e-mail at: