AP NEWS

Greater access to broadband in county supported

April 6, 2019

JUNEAU -- Executive committee members shared their support Wednesday for broadband access in Dodge County and created a committee to investigate its need for individuals and businesses.

Vicki Pratt of ThriveED was also included in the discussion of broadband services to stimulate economic growth in residential and commercial expansion.

Broadband refers to high-speed internet access that is continually on and faster than internet dial up access.

Committee members agreed broadband transmission in rural areas like Dodge County is costly and logistically difficult, but it’s needed.

“There is a need for broadband,” said committee member Joseph Marsik. “This has to happen. There are blank spots all over the county.”

Nate Olson agreed.

Olson, who is the planning/economic development administrator for Dodge County, said the county is behind the eight ball with broadband.

“We know in Dodge County we are not adequate. As a staff we know it’s problem, but how do we do it? Jefferson County put money aside to hire a consultant to say, ‘This is the issue and this is how you are going to take it on,’” Olson said. “We need some assistance to help us identify what can we do, where can we do it and how do we go about it.”

Pratt said broadband needs to make more of a headway into Dodge County.

“The data is coming in year over year that the vast majority of Americans are working from home at least one day a week,” Pratt said. “If we’re going to change our demographic destiny we better make sure that we have that connectivity. That infrastructure. That will matter more than the roads. It’s a baseline economic driver.”

The committee agreed to form a committee/work group to look at the possibility of broadband in Dodge County, but it didn’t come without some discussion.

After a long discourse on whether the county board should be included in discussion of forming a committee, some county board members who attended the meeting said there were several times when they voted on issues with only a few days to ponder them. At last month’s county board meeting, some county board members objected to casting their votes on an item that was brought to their attention a few days before the meeting.

However, committee members recommended forming an 11-member broadband committee with the caveat the board would be made aware of any actions or proposal long in advance of a vote.

In other business, committee members heard a request from Pratt who asked for an additional certified economic developer to help her focus on Dodge County’s process of business recruiting.

Currently, Dodge and Jefferson counties work together to promote residential and business growth.

The cost of the additional certified economic developer to Dodge County is nearly $50,000, which includes benefits, supplies and costs associated with the position. The individual will spend 75 percent of his or her time in Dodge County, Marsik said.

“We’re taking a good look at what needs to be done in Dodge County,” Pratt said. “We need some time on the ground to understand what the needs are in Dodge County. We need to be out there making visits with our primary industry sector businesses and building those relationships.”

Pratt emphasized how difficult it is to make the visits, calls and collect data within the two counties.

“There’s one professional economic development person on the staff that is under contract with Thrive and that would be me,” Pratt said. “I just can’t be at all the places that I really think we should be. This two county territory is 900 square miles, and it’s darned hard for me to be at all those places and do all of the things that need doing.”

Committee members agreed on the additional staff person for Pratt and sent the request to the Dodge County Board for possible approval.