Contact: Rep. Don Vruwink, 608-266-3790
Electricity lines spread across rural Wisconsin between 1930 and 1940 and most farms were electrified by the early 1950s. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Congress enabled this modernization by establishing the Rural Electrification Administration in 1935. The REA incentivized private utilities, cooperatives, and local governments to provide electricity to rural customers.
I think today everyone would agree these investments were necessary to keep our rural communities vibrant and on par with our cities. Today’s challenge in rural America is to extend high-speed Internet, also known as broadband, to every household, farm, and business.
Today broadband is as important to rural communities as electricity was in the 1930s and 1940s.
About 98 percent of urban Americans have broadband access compared to 70 percent of rural Americans. In Wisconsin, only 57 percent of rural residents have access to high-speed Internet.
Why don’t telecommunications companies provide high-speed Internet in certain areas? They look at factors like population density, geography, and perceived consumer demand in deciding where to build out their infrastructure.
A 2010 Federal Communications Commission study found that rural broadband users are as active as their urban and suburban counterparts for shopping and taking classes online. The same study suggests that high-speed Internet might even be more vital for rural residents as a way to access the benefits associated with urban and suburban living. A study conducted by Pew Research found that a majority of rural residents – 58 percent – identified inadequate broadband access as a problem or a major problem where they live.
Broadband access enhances quality of life and economic opportunities. It can manage health care in the home, a practice known as telemedicine. It allows more people to work from home, take online classes, earn college degrees, and conduct business.
By 2035 the world will have a trillion connected computers built into everything from food packaging to bridges to clothes. Computerized machinery can predicts its own breakdown and schedule preventive maintenance. Connected cows on the farm can have their eating habits and vital signs tracked, which means better milk production and less medicine when they fall ill.
The payoff of statewide broadband is enormous. Providing rural broadband is complicated because of all the stakeholders involved but it’s something both Democrats and Republicans support.
As ranking member of the Assembly Rural Development Committee, I led my Democratic colleagues in voting for a bill that will give incentives to telephone companies to extend high-speed Internet to un-served and under-served areas of the state. The vote in committee was 14-0 in favor.
Research shows that rural amenities like outdoor activities, affordable homes, and close-knit social networks appeal to young, well-educated Americans but lack of broadband deters them. Widespread broadband access could help draw younger populations back to Wisconsin, particularly to rural communities. Rural Wisconsin can’t wait; let’s move forward.
State Rep. Don Vruwink represents parts of Rock, Walworth, Jefferson, and Dane counties. These include the communities of Whitewater, Milton, Edgerton, Footville, the Town of Janesville, part of the Village of Oregon, and surrounding townships. He can be reached at 608-266-3790, Rep.Vruwink@legis.wisconsin.