Rural Broadband Internet Service Growing in Wisconsin

A state grant expanding broadband Internet access in Wisconsin will enable students in Eau Claire County school districts to bring the Internet home with them.

With homework and school lessons online, students need to have access to the Internet at home, said Jake Schoeder, Fall Creek school district technology coordinator.

A state grant expanding broadband Internet access will enable all students in four Eau Claire County school districts to bring the Internet home with them on a tablet or laptop.

Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch presented the broadband expansion grant to public and private partners Monday in Eau Claire.

In the Augusta school district, more speed is needed to keep up with multiple students using the Internet at the same time, said Collin Pomplun, information technology specialist for the district.

Osseo-Fairchild and Altoona school districts also will be assisted by the project.

The Public Service Commission grant was presented to CCI Systems/Packerland Broadband and Chippewa Valley Internetworking Consortium, which is made up of dozens of community groups.

Grants awarded in Eau Claire, Rhinelander and Platteville were the first doled out in the effort to improve Internet connectivity in Wisconsin.

Eau Claire received about $135,000 in state funding for the project to expand service in more than 50 square miles in rural eastern Eau Claire County where there is little Internet and cell signal reception. The grant money was matched by various public and private collaborators to reach the $250,000 needed for the project, which is set to be complete in two years, said David Mortimer, grant program manager for Sacred Heart Hospital.

Local paramedics using EKG equipment will be able to send real-time data to emergency room doctors so faster health care decisions can be made.

The project will update three current WiMax towers, build a new tower near Lake Eau Claire County Park to bring Wi-Fi to rural parks and lay about 15,000 feet of underground fiber.

Along with providing better Internet service to hospitals, schools, libraries, law enforcement and other public partners, the program will allow private citizens in the area to purchase Internet through Packerland Broadband, the private telecommunications company working on the project, which is owned by Michigan-based company CCI Systems.

The CINC group and CCI believe the project will serve as many as 1,200 new households in areas previously underserved and unserved, according to the grant summary.

“This is about jobs,” Kleefisch said. “People will not invest in Wisconsin without high-speed Internet.”

“People expect bridges and roads,” she added. “And now they expect high-speed Internet.”

©2014 the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.)