by Jim Schuessler, Executive Director, Door County Economic Development Corporation (DCEDC)
There is no “easy button” to press that will solve Door County’s broadband problems. Some of our broadband challenges relate to geography, density and geology. Some such as NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard) are self-inflicted.
To be certain, technology is not going away, and we live in a time when more activities depend on it. Silicon Valley continues to be very busy coming up with more ways to harness and expand technology.
DCEDC’s Technology Committee, populated by many good people, has been investing time in meeting for many years. We can’t keep venting about the problems. Our mission is to solve problems. We won’t fall into the Ready, Aim, Aim, Aim, Aim Syndrome: We are identifying the problems and plan to propose and help execute actionable solutions.
To discuss why this is important and which solutions are being identified, I asked David Studebaker – who has already helped the Town of Liberty Grove overcome some of these challenges – to share important perspective. With thanks to David, I’m pleased to share his thoughts.
Internet Access in Door County Can Be a Towering Challenge
by David Studebaker, Chair, Liberty Grove Technology Committee
Ron and Margie and their three kids arrived at their rented Door County country cottage about 10 am Saturday after several hours of driving. They were really excited about their first trip to Door County.
“Let’s freshen up and go get one of those famous Door County breakfasts,” Ron said. “I’ll check the internet for a good place nearby.”
Twenty minutes later, an irritated Ron said, “All I get is a whirling circle on the screen. I hope it’ll be better later. Right now it’s useless.” They slumped into the car to go searching for somewhere to eat.
Three days later, there still had been no Netflix movies, no online gaming, no access to local event information and no FaceTime to show off their vacation paradise to the cousins in Peoria.
Ron grumped, “Enough of this backwoods place! Pack up! We’re going to find a civilized vacation place closer to home.”
Miriam’s Green Bay doctor assured her she would recover more quickly if she rested at home in Door County.
“You go home, rest up and heal,” the doctor said. “Just wear the monitor, and we’ll get all the information we need to track your condition over the internet and know exactly how things are going. You do have internet, don’t you?”
“Some days I do,” Miriam said.
Miriam had to rent a room in Green Bay near the hospital for the next several weeks.
John’s employer offered him a big promotion if he got his certification, and he could also work from home two or three days a week, which meant he could help with child care. He could get the certification in just six months by taking courses online at night. If only they could get internet service where they lived …
“Dad, I’m home! We need to go to the library tonight. I’ve got to do my homework online.”
“Sorry, son,” Dad answered. “Mom has the car. She’s serving at the restaurant tonight.”
“Why can’t we have internet at our house?” asked the son.
“We tried to get it,” Dad said, “but the signals don’t work here.”
Some or all of these vignettes are familiar to many Door County residents. The lucky folks living in Sturgeon Bay and along Highway 42 are blessed with decent internet access and speed, but much of rural Door County is challenged by limited or no internet access. A recent Wisconsin legislative report stated that in today’s world, a lack of internet access eliminates many social, economic, quality-of-life and educational opportunities.
An immediate solution to better internet access is expanding the network of fixed wireless-transmission towers like those used by the local internet services provider Door County Broadband. These towers are taller versions of the skinny ones used by homeowners in wooded locations for over-the-air television reception. They are not the huge, fat, bulky towers with blinking lights used for cellular telephone signal transmission.
Expanding fixed wireless towers has been hindered for the past few years by regulations that treated transmission towers of any kind in the same way, regardless of their size or appearance. That added considerable cost to constructing the smaller towers. DCEDC is now working with the Door County administration to resolve this regulatory problem so that we can gain more access to internet service that, during the last 20 years, has become a utility – as important to modern daily life and welfare as telephone and electricity.
Research has shown a link between high-speed internet access and all of the following: higher household income, higher employment rates, job growth, business expansion and increased entrepreneurship. So when you see one of those skinny broadband transmission towers being constructed in your area, it’s a welcome sign: You and your neighbors are going to have improved access to better opportunities for online services such as education, information, health care, entertainment, shopping, communication with friends and family and, for some folks, the option to work from home.