Author Steve Jenkins is the Executive Director of the Door County Economic Development Corporation
The Rural Electrification Act of 1936 set in motion one of the most ambitious infrastructure initiatives in American history and provided electrical service to rural areas throughout the nation. Electrification fueled rural economic growth and prosperity, which had previously been reserved for the urbanized cities, and it significantly enhanced the quality of life in rural areas.
Today, it’s time to invest in a new infrastructure initiative that will also have dramatic implications for local economies and communities: broadband.
Broadband is essential for businesses and households to communicate, carry out operations, enhance learning, use available technologies, support the increased use of telemedicine and much more. Broadband has become a “public need and necessity.” And by providing robust broadband service, Door County can accommodate more remote workers who provide economic prosperity without creating pressures on typical infrastructures. In essence, broadband supports sustainable development.
The need for broadband has been a discussion topic here for many years, but it’s time for substantive action. The Door County Economic Development Corporation (DCEDC) has led the effort to honestly assess the need, capacity and strategy to deploy fiber-to-the-premise (FTTP) to as many residences and businesses in Door County as feasible. We also want to use, where possible, local providers and services rather than companies that are not based here or even in Wisconsin. We want a network that is accountable to the local residents and businesses, not stockholders who don’t care about Door County.
The firm of Finley/CCG is nearing completion of the Door County Broadband Infrastructure Engineering Assessment: a report that will help us create plans for an achievable, local broadband network.
Members of more than a thousand county households and businesses responded to a survey about current services and future needs. These results alone indicated the urgency of the issue in the county. Respondents clearly indicated that they want action now: 81% said they want better internet services; 87% want faster speeds; 83% want more competition; and 76% want more reliable service. Additionally, 62% said they would definitely buy in to a new network; another 23% said they would probably buy; and 12% said they might buy service.
Providing broadband in any rural area is a costly venture. In Door County, it is even more difficult because of the geology: You can kick the topsoil in most places and hit bedrock, making the installation of underground fiber cable costlier. But other approaches are possible.
Door County is fortunate to have a fiber backbone through the peninsula that can serve as the primary delivery infrastructure, so designing an FTTP network and the organizational structure to provide the system are the next steps.
Broadband services in Door County must be coordinated to reduce redundancy and possible overlaps, provide price competition and accountability to the end users, and offer maximum service reliability.
We have seen many providers come into the county “cherry-picking” profitable geographic areas and leaving behind service-starved areas. It’s time to provide a comprehensive broadband network for all of Door County well into the future, providing service to underserved areas and those with no service, and creating competition in areas that are currently served.
We have an opportunity to solve the broadband-service problem in Door County with commitment from both the public and private sectors, and through the significant availability of funding. The convergence of these factors offers the chance of a lifetime – one that may not come again.
The Broadband Infrastructure Engineering Assessment would not have been possible without financial support from entities including the County of Door; Sturgeon Bay School District; towns of Liberty Grove, Sevastopol, Baileys Harbor, Egg Harbor, Brussels and Clay Banks; Washington Island Electric Cooperative; Renard’s Cheese/Rosewood Dairy; Door County Medical Center; and Raibrook Foundation.