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Why biz should care that broadband lags

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Paul Jadin of the Madison Region Economic Partnership (MadREP) and Jim Butman of TDS Telecom have varying levels of worry about regional broadband deployment lagging behind peer-group regions, but they are in complete agreement about why local business operators should want the fullest possible internet access. Like everything else these days, it centers on workforce development.

A report issued earlier this year by MadREP indicates that broadband internet subscriptions for the six-county Madison Region trails that of peer regions in Ann Arbor, Mich., Austin, Texas, Portland, Oregon, and Raleigh, North Carolina. Dane County, at 87 percent, is comparable to them in terms of broadband deployment, but Columbia, Dodge, Jefferson, Rock, and Sauk counties range from 75 to 80 percent, and they cause the region to come in lower overall.

Broadband (aka high-speed internet) availability refers to whether broadband service is offered in a given area, while broadband adoption is defined as the extent to which households actually subscribe to and use broadband. Since it is now viewed as basic infrastructure necessary for improving prosperity and civic engagement, gaps in either availability or deployment should be viewed as economic suicide.

The requisite speeds — a minimum of 25 Megabits per second for downloads and 3Mbps for uploads, as defined by the Federal Communications Commission — can be delivered via fiber, cable modem, mobile or fixed wireless, copper wire, or satellite. However, it’s always the last mile of deployment that has been cost-prohibitive for private-sector internet service providers like TDS. States and the federal government have established funding programs to help remove barriers to infrastructure investment, but gaps remain.

For MadREP’s Jadin, who has an eight-county region to worry about, such gaps are unacceptable because access to jobs, telemedicine, and distance-learning opportunities are accommodated by broadband. For Butman of TDS, whose company has been building high-speed, fiber-optic networks in many communities, broadband deployment is the No. 1 priority.

Why should Madison businesses worry about lagging broadband? Think of how locally-based companies have been able to grow by leveraging broadband to attract talent remotely. The more broadband is lacking in any area, the more their ability to find quality workers is impaired.

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