Governor Evers holds Broadband discussion in Oxford

Governor Tony Evers visited Marquette-Adams Telephone Co-op in Oxford last Thursday, July 14th, to hold a roundtable discussion on rural broadband in the county. He was joined by a number of citizens and business/organization representatives who were positively impacted by the broadband services that Marquette-Adams offers. Governor Evers thanked those in attendance for the opportunity to attend and discuss broadband, saying that it was a necessity for business use, emergency services, and personal use. He said that Marquette-Adams had done extraordinary work expanding broadband into rural areas and highlighted the state grants for broadband expansion that they had won.

Recently, Marquette-Adams won grants to help expand their broadband coverage in Marquette County to include an additional 1,000 households. Once projects are completed, they will provide broadband access to over 80% of the county, up from the 60% they serve now. The company was a recipient of PSC and ARPA Broadband Expansion and Access grant programs and received local support from the County and various townships that contributed significant portions of their own American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to help fund some of the project costs.

CEO/GM Jerry Schneider thanked Governor Evers and introduced those in attendance as people who now have improved broadband access through Marquette-Adams. Schneider led discussion about the impact that had on them, both in their personal lives and for their businesses and organizations.

Jill and Jim Ward from Holiday Shores Campground and Resort discussed how the improved broadband helps their customers work remotely and because of that they were staying longer and investing more in the campers they were essentially living in. 

IT Director Angela Phelps from Adams-Columbia Electric Co-op said that Marquette-Adams has connected 23 of their 33 substations and their two service centers together using fiber, with two more substations connecting next year. Their previous wireless internet systems were unreliable in storms and the new Marquette-Adams fiber is more reliable, she said.  

Richard Gumz from Gumz Farms talked about how broadband has expanded their capacity to operate computers for their sales team, gives warehouse foremen access to information about shipments and other data, and how the overall speed and capacity has helped their business for things like online banking and card payments. He said the internet was dependable and that the speed, reliability, and capacity were quite beneficial to help run an operation their size. It helped them be so much more efficient in conducting business. 

IT Director Suzanne Wendt and Board of Directors President Cal Dalton from United Wisconsin Grain Producers discussed the improvements broadband brought to their business. They produce 65 million gallons of ethanol a year and the improved broadband allows them to get accurate commodity quotes and help run the everyday operations of the plant. They are also able to hold zoom meetings now when previously they’d have to call in. 

Montello School District Administrator Elizabeth Calnin and IT Director David Lockstein discussed broadband’s impact on that district. Calnin said that the pandemic showed how important internet access is and discussed how many of their students do not have access to good enough internet in the district. She said it was a barrier and that they were advocating for their rural school families. She estimated that about a quarter of the students had internet coverage issues.

Lockstein said that it was more economical to go local with their broadband access and it was a good partnership working with Marquette-Adams. He said that they had had 6 years of service without any issues, minus one service outage that lasted an hour in the summer. He said that there is a good portion of their students who live in the southern part of the county that do not have broadband and teaching them virtually had been a challenge. Lockstein also discussed the district’s E-Sports team, highlighting its accomplishments and the need for the players to have good internet, both at school and at home in order to practice and compete.

Allyson and Terry Janke from the Township of Springfield discussed the impact broadband has on their community. Their township contributed ARPA funds towards the expansion grants and Marquette-Adams is in the process of expanding service through that area. Terry is Chairman of the Township and both he and his wife Allyson discussed its impact, saying that their granddaughters considered their house the “Magic House” because the internet is so fast there. Allyson said she is able to now conduct meetings and worship services over zoom and Terry said that Marquette-Adams brought internet to areas of the township that didn’t have any and was an upgrade over current services. 

IT Director Daniel Buchholz and County Administrator Ron Barger from the Marquette County Government discussed how they switched the county service to Marquette-Adams and saved $5,000 a year. They also now hold all their meetings with a livestream and upload them for citizens to watch later. Barger said that public surveys showed how the public wants improved internet access and they worked to contribute ARPA funds to help Marquette-Adams expand their service based on that need. 

Governor Evers thanked those in attendance for their stories, saying it was great to see things going well. He said, “This is important, we can’t have a vibrant economy, we can’t have a good school district, we can’t have a good democracy… You’re doing great and you got folks here that are very capable around getting these funds; persistent, I guess is how I’d say it. Thanks for sharing and I appreciate your great work.”