Wired Wisconsin: Southeast Wisconsin plan illustrates broadband debate

Contact: Thad Nation, 414.412.7814

MILWAUKEE — A new Broadband Action Plan for the seven-county southeastern Wisconsin region just released by the Public Service Commission reinforces the need not just for expanded broadband services, but also for affordable, reliable broadband improvements.

One-third of Wisconsin’s population lives in this region and at least one broadband option is available to most residents, yet barriers stop certain populations from subscribing.

“The new PSC study for this region shows that there are three main reasons why residents don’t subscribe in the seven-county area,” says Thad Nation, executive director of Wired Wisconsin.

The first is access to available broadband networks. Though this particular region of the state is the most populated among the nine being used for the statewide PSC study, it is also home to a high percentage of smaller, more rural communities, some of whom only have access to the Internet through dialup or low-speed services.

“Cost is also a factor for lower-income populations, particularly those found in urban pockets where broadband access is available but subscribing is cost prohibitive,” says Nation. “Affordable, reliable broadband is just as important in underserved urban areas as it is in rural communities.”

Of the seven counties in the region, Milwaukee County has the lowest broadband subscription rate of 57 percent, about equal to the average found statewide. Among the census tracts where the average estimated broadband subscription rate is lower than 40 percent, 93 percent are located where the 2009 median income is lower than $40,000 per year.

Additionally, the study has identified that disabled populations are underserved by existing broadband services in this region. Among six different categories of disability, broadband usage in these homes is approximately one-half that of the general population surveyed, according to the plan.

“We need to support initiatives that ensure that Wisconsin can keep pace with the rest of the country,” says Nation. “Wisconsin currently ranks 43rd among the states for broadband access, and more than one million Wisconsin residents lack access to broadband speeds of 6 megabits per second or greater. This limited access is a deterrent to job growth and opportunity.”

The negative implications of limited access are particularly strong in the areas of job growth and economic development. A recent study by Phoenix Center shows that Americans who use the Internet and have access to broadband are more likely to continue active job searches and less likely to drop out of the labor force than those who do not have access.

A summary of the PSC’s Broadband Action Plan can be found at http://tinyurl.com/3qophvl.