Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:22 pm
A long-awaited study of technology infrastructure in Racine, Kenosha and Walworth counties was completed in mid-March, and some telecom providers are still wondering what the point of the exercise was.
Planners had hoped to have a final report in hand last October, but the original deadline was mid-summer. Currently, some testing of the speed of dial-up connections is still under way.
Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce (RAMAC), Kenosha Area Business Alliance (KABA) and Walworth County worked with Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) on the study, with assistance from Ecom-Ohio, an arm of the Ohio Supercomputer group.
RAMAC President Roger Caron says usable information is contained in the study results.
"Because of the types of companies we have, we are really well-connected," Caron said. "We have a high percentage of our population that uses computers. What we found is that computer use is not dependent on education. But it does differ by income. What we need to figure out is how to get our middle-income people connected."
Much of the study, however, focused on the availability of DSL connections and the speed of dial-up connections in various geographic areas. One provider – TDS Metrocom’s office in Waterford – was left scratching its head over the study’s omission of its DSL offering in the Waterford-Wind Lake area. Even a local newspaper, in which TDS has advertised its DSL services, quoted the study in saying that the Highway 36 corridor was not served by DSL connections.
"It has been available since Jan. 1," said Kelly Shipley of TDS Metrocom. "We actually deployed in mid-December. That means we were physically in the process of putting the product in the facility. And by January we were tested and fully working and able to sell it to the customer base."
Caron stressed that the assessment of connectivity infrastructure was designed to indicate areas that need additional services, and that the group expected new services to be offered in geographic areas on a regular basis.
"You have to remember that this changes every day," Caron said. "We did this in November, and things changed since then. It is meant to give you a baseline and things go from there. Obviously, three months later there is going to be added service everywhere."
But some connectivity providers are still asking: Why are economic development and government entities studying and hoping to influence the installation of technology that is essentially market-driven? Economic factors were the main bottleneck to the provision of DSL services to new areas last year when the study was initiated.
Ameritech, Verizon, Qwest Communications, Bell South and other telecoms all scaled back infrastructure investments after significant increases the previous two years. The slowing economy, limited capacity in terms of manpower and other factors limited the speed at which new technologies could be rolled out in some markets.
But Paul Schumacher, who chaired the ad hoc provider committee for the study, said results could be used to better direct in what geographic areas providers deploy first.
"Coinciding with this study was a study done by Racine County Economic Development Corp.," said Schumacher, who is president of his own Sturtevant-based start-up, Business Internet Strategies. "Part of their development plan shows that there is a need for development along the I-94 corridor. As we did this technology study, it shows that there is a weakness in terms of DSL and cable. We can now put this in front of providers and make a case that something will be done there be it DSL or cable or something completely different."
Schumacher indicated that the study did have weaknesses, chief among them the lack of attention paid fixed-wireless connectivity.
"I think it depends on the point of view you are coming from," Schumacher said. "From the nontechnical business people’s point of view, it is informational. From a purely technology provider point of view, it doesn’t give you a lot of information you didn’t already have. But it does help promote some services that are available out there."
March 29, 2002 Small Business Times, Milwaukee