The Northwoods Broadband and Economic Development Coalition (NWBEDC) is dedicated to the proposition that all Americans deserve access to the same tools and technology no matter where they live in the 50 states. Here in Wisconsin, and although we serve communities across the state, our specific focus is on the ten percent of the population or the some 500,000 people that live in the northern one-third, north of Highway 29, an area of approximately 20,000 square miles. NWBEDC exists to connect government, anchor institutions, economic development/workforce agencies, the telecom provider community, schools and industry in creative collaborative public-private partnerships which result in practical and cost-effective solutions to make broadband available in rural areas that otherwise would be forced to wait a very long time for meaningful service.
Over the past decade broadband, also known as high-speed internet, has evolved from a worldwide web communications option utilized by relatively few at the turn of the new century into a basic utility of life in 2016 for everyone in the United States, no different than water, gas, electricity, sewer and telephone. Today there are hundreds of actions that can be accomplished online only, using either a computer or a mobile device, and only then if the speed of the internet connection is fast enough. This list of tasks includes everything from applying for jobs to communicating with your health care provider to filing tax deposits and the list is growing by the dozens every day.
Access to broadband is no longer a privilege. It has become a right, an absolute requirement for individuals and businesses across the country to be able to navigate through life on a daily basis. A car’s engine cannot run without gas. In the same way, it is impossible to fuel the economic engine in a region unless private citizens, business and government alike have access to the new gas that runs the world in the year 2016: the broadband superhighway.
For those living and working in remote rural areas, access to basic technology has always been a challenge. During the electrification of America at the beginning of the 20th century, it was the farms in places like rural Wisconsin that were the last to be connected to the grid. Driven by profit motives, the large utility providers have historically always focused first on the 80% of the population that occupies 20% of the land mass while the 20% who occupy 80% of the land may be made to wait decades for service. Such areas are called underserved or unserved.
NWBEDC supports and advocates for government, anchor institutions, K-12 school districts, technical colleges, universities, economic development/workforce agencies, the telecom provider community, and industry to ensure that broadband service as the underlying, enabling technology for economic development becomes a reality today for all of Wisconsin, particularly in the North.