University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross calls it the “broadband imperative.” He explains at a broadband symposium in Madison, “Big transformation coming. Highly dependent on the ability to move data between different sources … fast.”
Wisconsin’s economic future depends on widely available, high-speed Internet access for everyone, Cross says, citing examples of driverless cars, smart clothes, and the infinite possibilities in the area of health care.
And, he says, it’s important to teach people what they can do and what the possibilities are, even at a basic level. “People don’t know how to use it or how it might be used or can’t conceive its value.” Cross says education is perhaps more important than the technology.
AUDIO: Cross says progress depends on thinking outside the box, experimenting, and “accidental discovery.” :12
Also, public-private partnerships must be formed, he says, “otherwise we’ll fail.”
High speed Internet access is no longer just a luxury; it’s a necessity, according to panel members , the Madison meeting last week. It is needed for public safety, job creation, and to help students learn.
Senator Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) says broadband needs to be considered a big part of a city’s infrastructure, just like roads, bridges, water, and sewer. “It’s critical, because many of these small businesses … these entrepreneurs are beginning and they say ‘we want to establish a business here, we want to grow our business here, and one of the hurdles that we have is bandwidth and access to the Internet.”
Shilling says tourism and agriculture thrive when broadband is abundant, and many farmers are dependent on high speed access, saying today’s tractor is an “office on wheels.”
State Representative Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander), chair of the the Speaker’s Task Force on Rural Schools, was frustrated that there were no legislative members from urban areas on that taskforce. “Even my own colleagues in the southern part of the state do not realize that we still have dial-up in the farthest areas of the northwoods. I wish we had had some urban legislators to fully understand not only what our rural schools are going through, but what our communities are going through.”
AUDIO: And satellite doesn’t work through dense hills and trees. Kara O’Connor, government relations director with Wisconsin Farmers Union, says residents are relying on the hope of fiber optic cable. :57
Panel members stress the need for private-public partnerships and a “significant infusion of capital from state and federal governments” as “critical parts of the solution.”
Shilling and Swearingen agree that broadband is necessary for the growth of agri-tourism — self-pick strawberry patches and apple orchards, bed and breakfasts, and other tourist destinations that are becoming more popular.
Brett Hulsey, longshot gubernatorial candidate in the Democratic primary, is quick to blame the governor for the lack of high speed Internet, reminding us of what he calls a lost opportunity. “Governor Walker gave away almost $23 million of upgrade grants that would have gone to 385 libraries and more than 80 schools and technical colleges in under-served parts of the state.”
Hulsey says that money also could have been applied toward improving communications in rural police, fire department, hospitals, job creation, and to “help students learn.” He says if he is elected to the governorship, “I’m gonna restore the Internet money.”
Wisconsin had received a $23 million grant in 2010 from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. That money was intended to build broadband connections in hundreds of Wisconsin communities, but the state returned that cash to the feds. State officials had said there were too many strings attached to the federal money.