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Broadband in Rural Areas a Necessity, But Not Easy to Do

Monday, February 8th, 2021 -- 11:00 AM

It’s been known for some time that rural areas, like Clark County, need more and better access to broadband internet service.

The COVID-19 pandemic has proven that even more so.  According to Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News, electric cooperatives across the country participated in the Federal Communications Commission's, or FCC, Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, and won the right to deploy broadband to nearly 1 million areas across the country at a cost of $1.6 billion.

Winning bidders will extend service to more than 900,000 locations in 31 states, including Wisconsin.  Winning bidders must file a detailed long-form application with the FCC, which must include deployment plans specific to their awards and areas to be served.

Bidders are required to provide minimum speed of 25 megabits per second for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads.  Co-ops seem to be on the forefront of bringing new and evolving technology to our rural areas.

For instance, of the 24 Electric Cooperatives in the state, Clark Electric Cooperative in Greenwood is the largest satellite provider in the state and one of the largest in the nation.

Another example is Clark Electric’s solar garden.  They are one of the first in the state to do so and were also one of the first to bring satellite tv to the area.  However, bringing fiber to the area is not as simple as many would think.

Many compare bringing fiber to the area the same way electricity was brought to the area in the 1930’s.  But with electricity, investor owned utilities were given the first opportunity to bring power to rural areas, but chose not too.

It was friends, neighbors, farmers, and others coming together and forming co-ops to bring electricity to rural areas.  The government then gave loans to that, but the loans were 100% equity and had to be paid back.

For fiber, a co-op has to guarantee those loans, pledging electric assets to develop broadband.  Grant money seems to be the main way fiber is brought to a rural area, but it can’t cover everything.  And it’s just one of  many obstacles to bring fiber to the area.

Cost is another one.  A recent study by co-ops to bring fiber to the 6-county area determined it would cost around $163 million.  The Clark County Economic Development Corporation is working to bring broadband to Clark County.

They ask you fill out a survey on their website to help with their efforts.  You can find the surveys here (http://clarkcountywi.org/) or you can go directly to the survey here: https://clark-county-broadband-internet-survey-wcwrpc.hub.arcgis.com/

Feel free to contact us with questions and/or comments.