FOX 11 Investigates the cost of expanding high-speed internet to rural Wisconsin
SHAWANO (WLUK) -- You've seen the commercials promoting high-speed internet. It just keeps getting faster. But the commercials don't apply to everyone.
"It's frustrating. It's very frustrating," said Roseanne Mocodeanu of Richmond in Shawano County about her internet service.
"The North Pole has faster internet service than we do in Shawano," explained Bruce Starszak.
If you live just outside the city limits of Shawano, chances are your internet service is slow, if it works at all.
Roseanne Mocodeanu works from home in Richmond Township.
“And to do a simple day’s work, eight hours, I would have to work 10 or 11 because it would take that long for it to think, and to save my spreadsheets,” said Mocodeanu.
“We're like in the dark ages. The internet is...terrible,” said Bruce Starszak.
Starszak knows a thing or two about computers. He has made fixing them a passion in retirement.
And every Tuesday at the Glas Coffee House in Shawano he can be found helping fellow residents solve their computer problems--for free.
“How often is the problem just the poor internet service?” FOX11 Investigates asked Starszak.
“Every week,” he said.
We met a group of individuals at the coffee house who all live in rural Shawano County, where they mostly rely on dial-up internet service.
“The dial up that we have here is worse than what I had in the early 1990s,” said Mocodeanu.
The mission of the Federal Communications Commission is to bring Shawano County and other rural parts of Wisconsin up to high-speed internet.
The FCC is spending $10-billion nationwide to subsidize broadband expansions to benefit rural internet customers. Wisconsin is only second to California among the states spending the most money on this project.
“We are on track to do a significant amount of additional broadband build up in rural Wisconsin between now and 2020,” said Bill Esbeck, executive director of the Wisconsin State Telecommunications Association.
WSTA is the group that lobbies for small rural internet providers in Madison. Among its clients--Frontier Communications which operates in Shawano.
As part of the broadband expansion project, Frontier in Wisconsin will receive $186 million from the federal Connect America Fund Phase II. That's $31-million a year for six years ending in 2020 to expand fast internet networks in rural areas.
CenturyLink is getting $55-million a year. And AT&T is getting $9-million a year.
When asked, Esbeck confirmed that’s a lot of money per home.
“It is and it works out roughly to $2,500 per location,” said Esbeck.
So where does the money come from to pay for this program? The answer is...it comes from you--if you have a phone. Every month on your phone bill you're charged a fee. It's labeled the Universal Service Fund.
The funds won't cover the entire cost of the broadband expansion. The companies involved will be paying big bucks too. And they are each considering different options--such as fiber optics and antennas--to get the job done. Each year through 2020, 20 percent of the homes targeted have to be able to receive high speed internet. But no one knows which homes will get it first...or last.
“The companies are in the process of deciding how they are going to engineer these projects, sequence these projects,” said Esbeck. “So I don't have a master list.”
Rural users say they've already been waiting 11 years to log on to high speed internet, as the rest of the world has passed them by. And they could be waiting another 4 years.
“It's just been forever. I mean in four years. There will be something else perfected by then hopefully,” said Carole Anker of Belle Plaine.
“I understand that we're rural and it takes time, but my goodness,” said Mocodeanu.
And if technology does continue to improve, rural users wonder if they'll ever catch up to the rest of the world.
Why is high-speed internet so important? There is an economic element to it. Many communities that don't provide the opportunity for high-speed internet can find tourists and businesses passing them by for somewhere else where they can stay connected.
"There's a lot of people that come here for the summer to get away," explained Carole Anker of Belle Plaine. "They can't work from the cabin like they used to work from their house. It just doesn't work."
"It's actually stifling the economy, I feel, of Shawano County because businesses once you get out of Shawano proper, you don't have the internet," said Starszak.