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Broadband plan for western Wisconsin launched Oct. 12

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business New Richmond, 54017
New Richmond Wisconsin 127 South Knowles Avenue 54017

For the past year business leaders and local representatives have worked to create a plan to expand broadband access in western Wisconsin.

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The plan will be launched at the Clairemont campus of Chippewa Valley Technical College, Eau Claire, on Wednesday, Oct. 12, from 4:30 to 7 p.m., in the Business Education Center.

There will be displays and staff available to answer questions throughout the evening, with a focused discussion from 5 to 6 p.m.

Chris Straight, senior planner for West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, is one of the 16 regional participants on the planning team and is familiar with the regional process and plan.

Straight says there is a need for broadband in Wisconsin.

"Consider today's global economy and the growing role of the Internet in our schools, businesses, local government and emergency services. Broadband is crucial to improving quality of life, delivering cost-effective services and meeting our shared economic goals," he said.

Although he says he's not an expert on the technical aspects of broadband, Straight says, "In the context of the planning effort, broadband is high-speed Internet. However, what constitutes adequate broadband service varies by user need and the different attributes of connectivity (e.g., speed, reliability, redundancy and cost)."

The plan is broken into nine different regions.

St. Croix County is in Region 3 along with Barron, Chippewa, Clark, Dunn, Eau Claire, Pepin, Pierce, Polk and Rusk counties.

"Our region is sometimes referred to as the I-Q Corridor given our strong educational, health services and bio-technology institutions," Straight said. "Yet, many of our region's businesses, institutions and households lack access to reliable Internet service at suitable speeds. Broadband can be used to foster collaboration and sharing. It allows the residents, businesses and communities of our region to take advantage of the opportunities that our I-Q Corridor affords."

Straight says the purpose of the plan is to encourage a consensus on the broadband needs and priorities for the region which could then be a potential focus for future collaboration and grant funding.

The draft Region 3 Broadband Investment Plan recommends three primary tasks for the West Central Wisconsin Broadband Development Committee:

Facilitate communication and champion collaborative efforts, increase awareness of the region's broadband needs and issues, and guide research and other activities recommended in the regional broadband plan.

The initial plan focus is on "anchor institutions," like business parks

schools, libraries, medical institutions and major local government offices.

Straight said after researching broadband needs the goal is to use the data to "establish minimum broadband speed and affordability objectives,

identify connectivity gaps and deficiencies for anchor institutions,

develop and pursue strategies to address gaps and, with time, expand this effort into other areas of need."

The most recent draft of the plan, created on July 20, will be presented at the open house.

"Following the public informational open house, I expect that the planning team will consider all comments received and finalize the plan," said Straight.

He says the planning and mapping process has been ongoing since 2009.

In fall 2010, Momentum West took the lead in identifying participants for the regional planning team. Some volunteers for the team were identified at an October 2010 forum. The PSC and their consultant facilitated the planning effort, while the planning team provided guidance on the plan issues, goals and tasks.

The planning team included representatives from education, libraries, health care, economic development and planning, business, agriculture, government, non-profit, seniors, energy and environment and telephone and communication companies.

Straight says it's crucial that residents and leaders attend the open house to share their concerns, learn about the plan and ask questions.

"I believe the purpose (for the open house) is two-fold: to increase public awareness of the region's broadband needs and the plan recommendations and to gain input into how the plan can be implemented, including potential resources and participants," he said.

***

The western Wisconsin regional plan is available online at www.link.wisconsin.gov or by contacting Straight at 715-836-2918. Those without Internet access are encouraged to view the maps and regional plan at a local library or other facility with public computers.

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