The possibilities related to making the town of Boulder Junction a “broadband community” were briefly shared with the town board at its July regular meeting last week.
For months now, the town board’s economic development/connect communities committee has been talking about the enhancement of broadband and high speed internet access, forming a work group to get more specific with the issue.
Essentially, many in the community feel there needs to be better broadband access in order for the town to continue to prosper and stay relevant in the future.
In introducing Bill Niemuth to the town board at last week’s meeting, committee member Dennis Aukstik said the committee believes “it’s an absolute priority” for the town’s long term prosperity to bring affordable high speed broadband to Boulder Junction.
Niemuth, recently retired from Kimberly Clark as director of global security, is a member of the broadband work group, telling people at the meeting he’s been a full time resident for four years.
“I’m now running a consultancy out of Boulder Junction and getting more and more involved,” he said, adding town chairman Dennis Reuss has gotten him more involved because of his experience in building communications systems.
“I thought we would level set for a moment because there’s a lot of numbers out there and all that and they can be really confusing,” Niemuth said. “So, as it relates to internet, it’s kind of like watering your garden. The more water you can put on it, the better. It’s like that with speed, internet speed.”
Niemuth had a power point slide presentation going over some detailed information, including different internet speeds published on the website broadbandnow.com.
“That just signifies what you can do with a different level of speed,” he said, going over different levels of internet speed, beginning with what he said he believed most Boulder Junction residents had for the most part to check their email or to browse the internet.
A thousand megbits, Niemuth explained, make up one gigabyte.
“If you want to get into gaming, if you want to move large files back and forth — which businesses do — you need more (megabits),” Niemuth said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Peaks and valleys
Leaving the technical portion of his presentation, he asked why everyone was at the meeting.
“Why are we talking about this?” Niemuth asked. “Those of you who have participated or attended other board meetings will remember there was a survey that was done of all the town residents in 2017.”
According to that survey, he said the lack of decent broadband internet access was the number one challenge to economic growth in Boulder Junction.
“Aging population was the next one,” Niemuth said. “Workforce shortage/staffing, fluctuation of tourist season, housing, lack of manufacturing. You know, when we sat back and looked at this (survey), today ... the environment’s different today. Everything is about connectivity. Communications and connectivity. That drives business. It really does.”
The next question he addressed in his presentation was why broadband is essential for Boulder Junction.
“It provides the ability to market to young families, entrepreneurs and new eco-friendly businesses,” Niemuth said. “So, what does that mean? Those folks come in, that requires all kinds of different support services to also grow because when people come and they’re here all the time, they need support services.”
Another item he said was critical was all that growth stabilizing and diversifying the town’s economy.
“It’s kind of like investing in the stock market,” Niemuth said. “If 100% of investment is in the stock market, that’s a pretty high risk. So, it’s about having a diversified portfolio so you kind of even out those peaks and valleys.”
‘We can’t have that’
There were two other areas the workgroup had looked at he said were “huge learning opportunities” and those are tele-education and tele-health.
“It’s amazing how popular tele-education has become,” Niemuth said. “What does that mean? That means as a student, they see a lot of their content, even textbooks, on the internet. They have to go to the internet.”
He said the feedback received from the North Lakeland School District was teachers can’t assign internet based homework because some students have decent connectivity at their homes and others don’t.
“So, they don’t assign it because it’s an inequitable situation,” Niemuth said, adding students with connectivity lin other areas learn at a faster rate “than our folks.”
“We can’t have that,” he said. “That’s not a competitive situation.”
Tele-health was something Niemuth described as “mind boggling.”
“Tele-health is, essentially, being able to visit with the doctor, in front of a video screen using some diagnostics so that doctor or nurse can see what your blood pressure is, can do a visual inspection,” he said. “It is absolutely phenomenal. What does that mean? It has the potential to keep us in our homes longer if we had that connectivity and in addition, we don’t have to go for appointments as much.”
Niemuth next briefly went over a list of items making up the work group’s strategy, culminating in eventually being able to market Boulder Junction as a broadband community.
“And someplace for folks kind of in the marketing area as a place to live,” he said.
Niemuth said there are two public information meetings scheduled for August that would get into more detail and talk about available grant money.
“There’s $48 million from the state that’s available over the next two years,” he said. “Finally, when we get to that point, it’s managing the project.”
The public information meetings Niemuth mentioned are from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 20 and from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 22.
Both meetings will be held at the community center.
“I urge people to come to either one of these sessions,” Reuss said. “This is something that’s very critical to this town ... there will be questions and answers and much lengthier program.”
Niemuth added one last thing and that was the work group hasn’t been able to get some information from internet service providers they’ve contacted.
“So far, residents have really helped us,” he said. “We’re gonna need your help from the service and information collection standpoint so the public information meetings are really going to be a give and take. It’s going to be a learning session for all of us.”
Brian Jopek may be reached via email at [email protected]