With high-speed internet considered essential for Wisconsin’s growth and prosperity, consumers and businesses have been asked to take speed tests to determine where coverage is lacking.
The latest free test, promoted by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., will help show where internet speeds are below the Federal Communications Commission definition of broadband — an always-on connection of 25 Megabit per second downloads and 3 Mbps uploads — adequate for ordinary tasks such as streaming a video or posting items on social media.
At a time when people can work remotely and run businesses from practically anywhere, the internet should be a boon to the rural economy. Yet Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission estimated that in 2021 roughly 650,000 state residents lacked access to a reliable connection meeting the FCC’s broadband standard.
Taking the latest test is easy. Just go to https://expressoptimizer.net/public from a home or work computer by May 8. It only takes a minute, and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. says personal information is protected and never shared.
Even residents without home internet access can log into the site from a local library or other location and click on “Enter an address with No Available Service” to complete the survey.
WEDC has partnered with the state’s nine regional economic development commissions on the test aimed at helping show where the state needs improved broadband infrastructure.
“This speed test map becomes an excellent tool for local broadband committees,” Brittany Beyer, chairwoman of the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband, said in a statement.
“It offers the most granular information about access currently available…and every test gets us closer to a full picture of broadband needs around the state,” Beyer said.
The state PSC also has a free internet speed test which can be accessed at https://psc.wi.gov/Pages/Programs/BroadbandConsumerResources.aspx from a home or work computer.
In March, the agency received 194 applications requesting more than $495 million from the state’s broadband expansion grant program. It is expected to award up to $100 million this summer.
Hundreds of millions of dollars in government grants have been poured into bridging the digital divide in Wisconsin, and more funding is coming under the federal infrastructure plan over the next few years.
But the process can be slow, and as the FCC over the years has raised its definition of broadband, in some places even more households and businesses have been considered unserved.
In Northwest Wisconsin, Sawyer County has areas where nothing other than inadequate, and expensive, satellite internet is available.
“For me, it’s barely functionable,” said Steve Beining in the Town of Draper in Sawyer County.
Beining has been frustrated with the county’s attempts to get broadband through state grants. At one point, he considered protesting the applications because he felt there were conflicts of interest with one of the service providers and questions about the coverage areas.
“If you’re a county trying to get broadband for your communities, you just have to have your act together,” Beining said.
Sawyer County, with only about 18,000 residents, is one of the most sparsely populated places in the state. In one of its PSC broadband grant applications, the Town of Draper said the majority of its residents were 70 and older and were not being replaced by the younger generation.
“Having limited or no access to the internet becomes a huge limitation for businesses,” town officials said in the $3.2 million grant application last December.
Residents “cannot run a business effectively without high-speed internet, thus limiting the county’s promotion of job growth and increasing the tax base.”
Beining works remotely as an engineer for Peoria, Illinois-based Caterpillar Corp. He has satellite internet service but says it’s inadequate and expensive.
“I’m kind of limping along,” he said. “But in today’s world, working remotely from a rural area shouldn’t mean you have to live off the grid.”