Racine County broadband service map

RACINE COUNTY — Although Racine County is steadily urbanizing and developing, almost half of the county’s municipalities have areas lacking adequate broadband service, according to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin Broadband Office.

The villages of Waterford, Yorkville, Raymond, Caledonia and Rochester and the towns of Waterford, Norway and Dover all hold pockets of varying sizes that have either no or slow wired broadband service, a state broadband map shows.

The entire county would be connected by 2025 under Gov. Tony Evers’ goal to have high-speed broadband access for all Wisconsin residents, but that aspiration and funding to go with it were removed from the governor’s 2019-21 executive budget.

“(It’s) a lofty goal, but one worth pursuing if we have the resources,” PSC spokesman Matt Sweeney said.

High-speed broadband is defined under the 2019 Wisconsin Broadband Plan as a minimum of 25 megabits per second download speed and 3 megabits per second upload speed — a speed that should work fine for a family streaming Netflix or gaming on a couple devices, according to Federal Communications Commission guidelines.

The PSC has awarded $20.1 million in Broadband Expansion grants since launching the program in 2013. The grants are applied for by an internet service provider, or ISP, in partnership with a municipality. If the grant is awarded, the ISP and PSC split the cost of the service expansion.

The grant fund currently holds $48 million, Sweeney said.

“Obviously, to expand to these areas is tremendously expensive,” he said.

Sparse local action

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To date, only Raymond has received a grant locally. The $112,672 award helped Mount Pleasant-based e-vergent expand service to 19 homes. Yorkville trustees voted late last month to find a partner ISP to apply for the grant.

“We would likely apply if an ISP were able to get enough customers to justify the project covered by the grant,” Yorkville Clerk-Treasurer Michael McKinney said.

It is unclear if other Racine County municipalities plan to apply for the grant, or if Raymond would apply again to further erase its service gap.

Rochester Village Administrator Betty Novy said in an email Wednesday that she was previously unaware of the program but would look into it further. Officials in the other eligible local communities did not respond to emails or calls.

U.S. News and Report ranks Wisconsin at No. 37 in its Best States for Internet Access list, and Broadband Now — an organization that advocates for expanding broadband access — ranks Wisconsin as the 36th most-connected state.

About 8.7% of Wisconsin residents have no wired broadband service whatsoever, Sweeney said, and in all, about 19% of state residents are underserved.

Closing that gap in Racine County and beyond will be no easy task, Sweeney said.

“I’m not sure if it’s really fair to expect us to meet the goal (of broadband for all by 2025) if we didn’t receive the resources to pursue that,” he said.

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