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New mapping tool shows gaps in broadband coverage

Interactive map to benefit internet, community, economic-development planning in region

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February 6, 2024

NEW NORTH — Connectivity is a must for businesses and residents who need broadband access for work, school, a video visit with a doctor and more.

A new tool — the New North Broadband Overview Map, which was developed collaboratively with community-based partners throughout the region — clearly shows the areas being served and not served by broadband.

“All the data is now in one place,” Jessica Hatch, Door County Community Broadband Coordinator, said. “It’s a one-stop shop showing where there is coverage and where there are gaps. The map will help with broadband planning going forward.”

Hatch said the Broadband Overview Map — which is accessible to the public at — presents the data in a visual, easy-to-understand manner.

The plotting mechanism, she said, was developed in collaboration with multiple partners, including the East Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (ECWRPC), the Bay-Lake Regional Planning Commission (BLRPC), Door County, Marquette County and Neverman Consulting.

The mapping tool, Hatch said, is funded through a Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Local Planning Grant from the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.

Each county in the state, she said, had the option to receive individual funding for broadband planning or could apply for it collectively under its Regional Development Organization (REDO) — with New North, Inc. serving as the REDO for Northeast Wisconsin.

BEAD, Hatch said, prioritizes unserved locations that have no internet access or have access under 25/3 Mbps, as well as underserved locations that have access under 100/20 Mbps.

According to New North, 76.3% (417,295) of the region’s population is served by broadband, while 13.3% (72,748) are underserved and 10.4% (56,655) are unserved.

The big picture
Barbara Koldos, vice president of business development for New North and a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband Access, said though New North’s more populous areas have reliable broadband coverage, rural areas — or those with geological challenges like parts of Door County — do not.

The tool, Koldos said, identifies those areas so counties know where to concentrate their efforts.

The New North Broadband Alliance, she said, began meeting last April and determined a regional map addressing shared boundaries was the most cost-effective way to address the needs of similar expectations for each county.

“The alliance realized through its meetings that mapping was a critical aspect of the BEAD planning grant process and the map would have other valuable, long-term uses,” she said. “It will be especially helpful in meeting the broadband internet needs in the New North.”

Mike Zuege, GIS manager for ECWRPC, and Nicole Barbiaux, GIS coordinator for BLRPC, led the creation of the regional mapping tool.

Instead of pulling together 15 individual county maps, the duo created a comprehensive map for the region.

“It’s important for counties to work together,” Hatch said. “If Marinette and Oconto counties, for example, are not talking, they might not know they both have plans to install lines near each other. But if they worked together, it would help lower overall costs.”

Hatch said the map will be beneficial to counties as they decide where to add broadband.

“The map provides counties with a place to start,” she said. “They can see areas that might be a challenge and what areas make the most sense (to install broadband). We can look at the high-need areas and put funding toward that.”

Keri Soli, Marquette County’s economic development and tourism coordinator, said currently, 70% of Marquette County has internet coverage — with plans by Charter Communications to reach 90% by 2026.

The map, Soli said, provides the county with detailed information as it develops a plan to reach the remaining 10%.

“We want to be competitive for the BEAD funding that will be available for each county and have a plan in place,” she said.

Soli said the BEAD funding also has a segment related to equity — “making sure people can afford broadband and have a device to access it.”

“I am interested in that as well,” she said. “It’s great to have broadband available, but you want to make sure people can utilize it.”

Koldos said the area’s internet service providers have access to the mapping tool and plan to use it in making their decisions.

A bit more details
Besides data on what areas are covered, Koldos said the tool includes unique data filters that are important determinants to the cost and viability of broadband internet expansion in any particular area, such as environmental factors and railroad crossings.

“The providers now have access to more information that will help with their planning and when they work with different communities,” Soli said.

The tool also includes other data focused on economic development — such as population, housing units, economic levels, business and industrial parks and available services.

“We are excited to offer this compilation of data sources on a single point of reference that is easy for people to read and understand,” Koldos said. “It provides a powerful planning tool for industry and governmental bodies in the New North region to receive localized data visually for broadband internet and a host of other economic and community-development applications.”

Solis said Marquette County saw firsthand what can happen when broadband is widely available during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When many people shifted to working remotely, Soli said people with second homes in the county or spots at local campgrounds stayed longer, since they could still get their work done.

“The longer people stayed here, the more money they spent locally,” she said.

Solis said regional real estate agents are selling more homes to people who can work remotely and want to live in the area year-round.

“We’re going to start marketing this as a place where you can live and work remotely or hybrid because we’re fortunate to have such strong broadband,” she said.

Barb LaMue, president and CEO of New North Inc., said the organization recognizes broadband continues to be essential community infrastructure, which is why New North led efforts for the Regional Broadband Access Study.

“This overview map and hub continues to position the New North region at the forefront of the broadband internet expansion in the state,” she said.

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