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Telephone improvements sought

Members of the Marathon County Infrastructure Committee on Thursday said they hope discussion at an upcoming March 5 meeting will clarify what the county can do to ensure that all county residents have access to 911 emergency telephone service.

Committee members said they are alarmed at reports that some county residents, including the elderly, have unreliable landline telephone and spotty cell phone service, making it diffi cult or impossible for them to contact sheriff’s department dispatch with a 911 call for an ambulance.

Committee members said they were unhappy with the present situation, but were not sure what the county could do in the current deregulated telecommunications environment to improve emergency telephone service.

Two committee members, Jeff Johnson, Wausau, and Tom Seubert, town of Day, said, cell phones with boosters could help many people who have poor landline service.

Seubert said some elderly could improve their phone service and save money at the same time by switching to a cell phone.

“The cell phone is half the price of a landline,” he said.

Board vice-chairman Craig McEwen, Rothschild, chairman of the county’s Public Safety Committee, told Infrastructure Committee members that he also had significant concerns regarding people unable to dial 911.

“Something has got to be done,” he said.

City County Information Technology Commission director Gerard Klein said there were a handful of areas in Marathon County that continue to have poor cell phone service. These areas include the town of Hamburg, townships northeast of Wausau, towns in the vicinity of the Central Wisconsin Airport and towns east of Stratford that include the Big Eau Pleine Reservoir.

Klein said both the state and federal government have deregulated the telecommunications industry and no longer have the power to mandate service levels.

“There is no hammer at the FCC or DATCP level,” he said.

Supervisor Johnson said Klein and highway commissioner Jim Griesbach should research how Oneida County has achieved 95 percent broadband coverage.

“They did it at low cost and they leveraged a whole number of grants,” he said.