Broadband in Rural Wisconsin: Identifying Gaps, Highlighting Successes

While broadband is nearly universal in Wisconsin cities and villages, there are major disparities in the rural parts of the state, according to a new Forward Analytics report, Broadband in Rural Wisconsin: Identifying Gaps, Highlighting Successes.

The most recent data from the Federal Communications Commission show that 25% of rural residents lack access to 25 Mbps broadband, the speed which is now considered the standard. Wisconsin’s level of inaccessibility is worse than the national average and 35 other states.

In Wisconsin, rural access to 25 Mbps broadband varies widely by county. The highest levels of access generally are in the relatively small rural parts of urban counties, such as Kenosha, Racine, and Waukesha counties. However, in nine more sparsely-populated counties—Ashland, Clark, Douglas, Iron, Marinette, Price, Richland, Rusk, and Taylor—less than half of the rural population had broadband at that speed available in 2019.

According to Knapp, Wisconsin’s broadband infrastructure does have key successes, though. Access levels at speeds of 10 Mbps or higher are better than the U.S. average—93.6% of rural Wisconsin residents had access to those speeds vs. 91.3% nationally. In areas with high levels of 10 Mbps access, the strategy for achieving universal 25 Mbps access will focus more on upgrading current service rather than bringing new broadband to areas where it does not exist.