Map Shows Where Businesses Can Get Ultrafast Internet in Wisconsin

The interactive map shows more than 100 business districts in the state with broadband speeds of at least a gigabit per second.

by Rick Barrett, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / April 15, 2015

(TNS) -- In an effort that state officials say is the first of its kind nationally, Wisconsin is offering an online map that identifies business parks with ultrafast Internet speeds, a plan they say will help attract more businesses to the state.

Wednesday, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. is unveiling the interactive map at that shows more than 100 business districts in the state with broadband speeds of at least a gigabit per second.

That's roughly 1,000 megabits per second, compared with 15 to 20 megabits for a typical Internet connection, and it allows an individual or business to move large amounts of data smoother and faster.

With gigabit service, even a large company could locate in a rural community and be well connected with its customers. That's a powerful economic development tool for areas with the service.

"The mapping of business parks and industrial parks with 1-gigabit or higher broadband is a competitive advantage for Wisconsin and enables the state to attract businesses that have high-speed Internet needs," Reed Hall, WEDC secretary and CEO, said in a statement.

Of the hundreds of business parks in the state, the WEDC and the Wisconsin State Telecommunications Association have identified more than 100 sites with gigabit service.

To be eligible for the map, which is an overlay on a larger WEDC map identifying business parks, a site must have the service available for clients now, rather than saying it's something that could be available in the future.

There are some large omissions on the gigabit map, since it includes only sites where the broadband provider is a WSTA member. It omits, for example, major providers such as AT&T, Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications.

"When you look at southeast Wisconsin (on the map) you see a pretty big gaping hole," WEDC spokesman Mark Maley said.

AT&T has gigabit service in Milwaukee-area business parks and elsewhere in Wisconsin where the company has fiber-optic cable capable of delivering the higher broadband speeds. Mostly it's aimed at larger businesses and institutions, said Matthew Beattie, executive director for AT&T's fiber-to-the-building program.

"When we have a customer coming into an office or technology park, and they have a need for gigabit-plus services, we can build the circuit to suit their needs. There has to be a certain amount of infrastructure in place to do that, but we have pretty good fiber coverage in Wisconsin," Beattie said.

The map is far from a finished product, Maley said, and other sites will be added as the information becomes available.

"We would like this to be as strong as possible and as meaningful as possible. We are in discussions with other Internet providers about adding them to the map," Maley said.

Still, Wisconsin is the first state to create an interactive map like this, according to the WEDC, which leads the state's economic development efforts.

"This has never been done before, nationally," said Danielle Jones, a WEDC sector manager who worked on the project.

As businesses put more emphasis on broadband, "there's definitely a need for them to know what's available and where it's available," Jones said.

Nearly 80 of the sites on the map claim to have broadband service of up to 10 gigabits per second, and five of them claim to have service of up to 100 gigabits.

There probably aren't any Wisconsin businesses that need a 100-gigabit broadband circuit, but they might want it in the future.

"I don't think there's any question that many businesses can operate efficiently with broadband speeds below a gigabit," said WSTA Executive Director Bill Esbeck.

Hospitals and some other large institutions, however, have hefty bandwidth needs.

"As more people move their sensitive, proprietary data into the (online) cloud, one thing they can't tolerate is slow speeds. So having gigabit service in a business park is certainly attractive to companies that want to expand or relocate there," said Andrew Petersen, a vice president with TDS Telecom in Madison.

Andrew Lewis, a community development specialist at the University of Wisconsin Extension, has developed a Google map showing where gigabit service is available in Wisconsin and other states for consumers, including rates.

"Wisconsin is starting to get some decent levels of gigabit service, but the prices tend to be significantly higher than what I am seeing in other parts of the country," Lewis said.

Gigabit maps could be helpful, Lewis said, but even if the service is available in a general area doesn't mean it's available at every address in that area.

"TDS, for example, advertises that it has gigabit service in Middleton, but not in the part of Middleton I live in," Lewis said, adding that he also thinks it's important to include published rates on broadband maps because businesses and consumers need the information to make decisions.

The state's interactive map is a work in progress, WSTA's Esbeck said.

"But I think the message this map sends to businesses is, if they need gigabit broadband connections, we have them," he said. "You can look at this list and know that you have more than 100 places to choose from."

©2015 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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