Wisconsin broadband speed tests aim to find slow internet service

With high-speed internet considered essential for Wisconsin’s growth and prosperity, consumers and businesses have been urged to take speed tests to determine where coverage is lacking.

The latest free test, promoted by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., will help show where internet speeds fall short of the Federal Communications Commission’s definition of broadband – an always-on connection of 25 megabits per second download and 3 Mbps upload – adequate for ordinary tasks like streaming a video or posting to social media.

At a time when people can work remotely and run businesses from virtually anywhere, the internet should be a boon to the rural economy. Still, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission estimated that in 2021, about 650,000 state residents lacked access to a reliable connection that met the FCC’s broadband standard.

Passing the last test is easy. Simply go to https://expressoptimizer.net/public from a home or office computer before May 8th. It only takes a minute and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. affirms that personal information is protected and is never shared.

Even residents without home Internet access can log into the site from a local library or other location and click “Enter an address with no service available” to complete the survey.

WEDC has partnered with the state’s nine Regional Economic Development Commissions on the test to help show where the state needs improved broadband infrastructure.

“This speed test card becomes a great tool for local broadband committees,” Brittany Beyer, chair of the governor’s broadband task force, said in a statement.

“It offers the most detailed access information currently available…and each test brings us closer to a complete picture of broadband needs in the state,” Beyer said.

The state PSC also offers a free internet speed test accessible at https://psc.wi.gov/Pages/Programs/BroadbandConsumerResources.aspx from a home or work computer.

In March, the agency received 194 applications requesting more than $495 million from the state’s broadband expansion grant program. It is expected to award up to $100 million this summer.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in government grants have been disbursed to close the digital divide in Wisconsin, and more funding will be provided under the federal infrastructure plan in the coming years.

But the process can be slow, and as the FCC over the years has raised its definition of broadband, in some places even more households and businesses have been deemed unserved.

In northwestern Wisconsin, Sawyer County has areas where nothing but inadequate and expensive satellite internet access is available.

“To me, it’s barely functional,” said Steve Beining of the town of Draper in Sawyer County.

Beining was frustrated with the county’s attempts to obtain broadband through state subsidies. At one point, he considered protesting the demands because he felt there were conflicts of interest with one of the service providers and questions about coverage areas.

“If you’re a county trying to get broadband for your communities, you just need to act together,” Beining said.

Sawyer County, with only about 18,000 residents, is one of the least populated places in the state. In one of its PSC broadband grant applications, the city of Draper said the majority of its residents are 70 and older and not being replaced by the younger generation.

“Having limited or no internet access becomes a huge limitation for businesses,” city officials said in the $3.2 million grant application last December.

Residents “cannot effectively run a business without high-speed internet, which limits the county’s promotion of job growth and increases the tax base.”

Beining works remotely as an engineer for Caterpillar Corp, based in Peoria, Illinois. It has satellite internet service, but says it is inadequate and expensive.

“I’m a little limping,” he said. “But in today’s world, working remotely from a rural area shouldn’t mean you have to live off the grid.”

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