Broadband task force scales back work scope
There seems no obvious way to dramatically improve broadband services across rural Marathon County and, at best, the county may only be able to work on some smaller projects to make limited progress.
That was the bottom line message heard at Monday’s first meeting of a newly convened Marathon County Broadband Task Force. Gerry Klein, City County IT Department director, said Frontier, a major broadband provider across the county, has recently dedicated more staff to improve internet service over the county’s halfcentury old copper cable telephone network, but, recently, filed for bankruptcy. He said Frontier is slowly installing D-SLAM pods that incrementally improve rural internet service, but faces challenges fixing old copper wire service. “This copper wire, installed by GTE, is literally crumbling,” he said. Other wireless providers, Klein said, are not able to economically broadcast “silo to silo” line-of-sight internet signal across the county’s forested landscape pocketed by creek and river bottoms.
Jeffrey Glazer, clinical associate professor at the UWMadison Law and Entrepreneurship Clinic, told task force members cities, villages and townships could under Wisconsin law provide citizens with broadband services if private firms fail to do so, but there is no provision for county governments to provide these services.
Town of Halsey resident Kat Becker, a member of the task force, said that made it tough to understand how the problem of poor rural internet service could be successfully tackled.
Becker said the Halsey town board had its hands full maintaining town roads and keeping a recycling station open a few days days a week. It was not capable of spearheading a broadband project, she said.
“The idea is staggering to me,” she said. “I don’t think the town could even make an application” for a broadband project.
Becker is an expert on inadequate broadband service. She was late to the task force’s WebEx virtual meeting because she had to drive from the “dead zone” where she lives to an area where she could get better cell phone reception.
Klein told task force members there is a possibility the county could use federal CARES money to erect a cell tower in the Hamburg area to improve law enforcement dispatch, but that it could be dual purposed to boost internet service in that area.
Klein said a tower project would need to be bid out and paid for by Nov. 9 to use the federal funding. He said the Hamburg to Athens corridor has notoriously bad cell phone and internet service. He thought a cell tower could benefit the Hamburg area, but probably not the Athens community.
Becker suggested that public institutions, such as schools and libraries, which already enjoy robust internet service, crank up their Wi-Fi signal so that area residents can use the internet from adjacent parking lots.