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Lincoln County seeing where it needs to improve internet speedsSubmitted: 04/17/2015
MERRILL - Lincoln County and workers at UW Extension Lincoln County will start researching what areas in the county need and want faster internet speeds.

Small businesses fall behind when they can't get the internet speed and access they need. It's a broadband problem for many parts of the rural Northwoods.

UW Extension Lincoln County's Art Lersch doesn't know how, where, or what improvements would look like for sure. However, he does know some people and businesses in rural areas could use some faster internet speeds.

"For example the Town of Schley just did a survey, and they asked that question, do you have a home based business, and 21 people responded yes, and this is a small town with only a few hundred people who live there," Lersch said.

Merrill and much of the area along U.S. 51 to Irma have access to download speeds greater than 25mbps, according to online data from LinkWisconsin. That's also the case for Tomahawk and areas north of the town, but that isn't the case for much of the rest of the county.

Lersch says the county is in the early stages of gathering data on the project, but the challenge is finding exactly where the demand is in rural parts of the county.

"We don't know that right now," Lersch said. "We think it's all over in the county. We've pin-pointed a couple areas where it might me at its highest, however, the question is, are those people willing to pay for that enhanced service?"

Lersch says the county wants to try to work with the existing providers and partner with them on the possible project. However, he says the providers have to see there is demand in the areas in order to make it worth their while.
The county could turn to the state for funding help. The Broadband Expansion Grant Program is a grant program created in 2013 by WI Act 20. The program reimbursements grants to organizations, telecommunications utilities, cities, towns, or counties for equipment and construction expenses for expanding or improving broadband telecommunications service in under-served areas of the state, according to LinkWisconsin.

Gov. Scott Walker's proposed budget offers $17 million for rural broadband grants each of the next two years. Lersch calls the funding an excellent start.

"I think down the road we're going to see more resources put towards this, but of course the state has limited resources," Lersch said.

People could see a survey soon if they live, or own a second home, in the county. Lersch says the survey would ask people about their internet speeds, access, and other issues surrounding the issue.


Related Weblinks:
Wisconsin Broadband Map
National Broadband Map

Story By: Adam Fox

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