Hear the complete conversation at doorcountypulse.com/podcasts/
Providing affordable broadband internet access to all state residents by 2025 is one of the goals of the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband Access, created by executive order in July. That task force has begun meeting, and to get some insight about where it may be heading, we spoke with Kurt Kiefer, one of the 24 people appointed to serve.
Kiefer is a Door County property owner who lives in the Madison area, where he serves as the assistant superintendent of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI). Specifically, he oversees the Division for Libraries and Technology, so he’s no stranger to the access issues that exist for the one out of five Wisconsin households where schoolchildren reside.
“Bringing folks together to say, ‘How can we fix this thing once and for all?’ is absolutely critical,” Kiefer said.
DPI had asked tech professionals working in the state’s school districts what proportion of their kids did not have access. That number was around 15 percent, or roughly 135,000 kids across the state. That number dropped when the global pandemic sent kids home and connections had to be figured out, but still, they estimate that about 40,000 kids across the state are not technology enabled.
“We used to call it the homework gap,” Kiefer said. “We’re now calling it literally the ‘learning gap.’ We’ve got to get them connected; we have to get them connected. And we will – I know we will.”
One of the issues he said he hoped the task force would take up is data. “You need better data to understand and assess the current state of where we are and to have data to help explain where we need to go,” Kiefer said.
That means looking at who has access, what kind of access it is, which technology is used, how good it is and which devices are used to access that technology. Reliability is also important.
“That’s part of the issue: Can you get by on 25 megabyte download speeds and 3 up? You probably can if you really have 25 megabyte download speeds and 3 up,” he said.
Fiber connection is the ultimate connection because it’s virtually limitless in its ability to carry vast amounts of data. Ultimately, Kiefer said, the answer is always fiber: the standard to be achieved. But it can be a challenge – one that’s been creatively solved in some communities, including within Wisconsin.
“There’s a completely private; there’s a completely public; and then there’s an in-between [broadband model], with a whole bunch of other ideas,” he said. “Those are the ones I’m hoping get a little more traction in the conversation.”