State connectivity project could facilitate rural development

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State connectivity project could facilitate rural development

As chief information officer for the State of Wisconsin, Matt Miszewski wants to make it easier for businesses in rural areas to get serious Web and extranet connectivity.
First a lawyer, then an IT entrepreneur – then head of the recently-eliminated Department of Electronic Government (DEG) – Matt Miszewski is planning to use a network that connects far-flung state offices to make major data pipelines available to businesses in underserved areas. Such a move, he said, could facilitate economic development in rural areas and make it easier for companies in urbanized southeastern Wisconsin to operate satellite locations in places such as the North Woods.
Miszewski was most recently CEO of Standfire Networks, an Internet start-up that, among other things, created secure e-mail software for physicians and operated a pay-for-download music site. He was a partner with the Milwaukee law firm Odell, Ugent, Haney, Miszewski, and prior to that spent time with IBM.
DEG will become part of the Department of Administration Aug. 24 due to budget cuts implemented by Gov. Jim Doyle.
Since taking his post in the Doyle administration, Miszewski has been working on the re-implementation of BadgerNet, a communications network that connects state government offices throughout Wisconsin. In a Technical Request for Information issued in late August, Miszewski solicited input from potential vendors on what it would take to add excess capacity to BadgerNet.
"As we look at what we are going to do with this, we will try to determine if there is some way we could allow private companies to connect to the system," Miszewski said. "We need to keep economic development at the front of our mind when we do these procurements."
The state’s contract with BadgerNet Access Association – an alliance of organizations that provide connectivity to the state – for the existing BadgerNet expires in 2005. By then, Miszewski wants to not only have a new contract in place for the state, but to have enough excess capacity to allow private businesses to access the powerful OC3 and OC12 backbone the state uses for data and video communication. Miszewski said the RFI would determine, among other things, to what extent new fiber optic cable must be laid to make an expanded BadgerNet happen.
Businesses would be able to contract with telecommunications companies for connections to the backbone, and would be able to lease capacity for pretty much anything from running an extranet to providing Internet services to other businesses.
"There is really no limit to what they can use it for," Miszewski said. "One thing that might correlate with this is if we could go back in time before telephone lines were brought to certain areas. That made those areas for competitive for business and development purposes. In order for the state of Wisconsin to become competitive with the rest of the country, we need this type of connectivity in force."
According to Miszewski, expanded connectivity in the hinterlands could make it easier for businesses in remote areas to do business with their urban counterparts.
"I don’t think (lack of connectivity) is holding back development, but it certainly would stimulate additional development, along the same lines of giving tax cuts to small businesses," Miszewski said. "This would certainly help in that area. It clearly would help folks that want to do business with small business up north but have requirements for electronic data exchange."
An expanded BadgerNet could allow businesses in southeastern Wisconsin to locate operations in more rural areas to take advantage of lower costs for labor and real estate.
"In order to do that, you need to have in force the high speed infrastructure that we are laying down," Miszewski said. "You could take advantage of some of the lower cost operations in places where people can not today because there is simply not the infrastructure."

Aug. 22, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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