Technology for Rural Areas: What is Broadband?

The Phelps Chamber of Commerce strives to provide education and resources to our business members with the goal of ensuring a sustainable, thriving economy through the success of local businesses. With this purpose in mind, we have put together a series of articles to explain broadband internet, the differences in internet connections, and how broadband can affect small businesses.

The internet is here to stay and the high speeds broadband can provide will benefit Wisconsin for economic development, healthcare initiatives, public safety, education, and quality of life.” – from the Broadband Reference Guide published January 2014 by the Broadband & Ecommerce Education Center, University of Wisconsin Madison Extension, on behalf of the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin.

We understand the very broad concept of the Internet and the World Wide Web. It is that magical thing that allows our computers and gadgets to give us access to information, entertainment, and our favorite Facebook apps. However, the term ‘broadband’ sounds scarier than the word ‘Internet’, and the technical details can be daunting.

Understanding what broadband is and the differences in speeds allows us as a community and individuals to make informed decisions. This article provides a summary of broadband to help you understand the topic easier. For a more detailed examination of the topic, check out the Broadband Reference Guide and other resources on the LinkWisconsin website.

What is Broadband?

Broadband is simply high-speed Internet. The Federal Communications Commission defines it as “high-speed Internet access that is always on and faster than traditional dial-up access”. Faster than dial-up, we can understand – this ‘old’ method of connecting to the web meant a busy phone line, frustratingly slow connections and that horrible dialing/screeching noise. Broadband is the better and faster 2.0 version of Internet access.

A key part of the definition is that is always on. Your computer doesn’t waste time hunting for a dial tone – the connection is simply, rather mysteriously there. The other factor that makes a connection broadband is the speed. This is where the discussion can often get even more confusing. The important thing to remember is that, with Internet access, faster is always better.

What do Broadband Speeds Mean?

Broadband speeds are often discussed in terms of Mbps, or megabits per second. This refers to how fast data and information travel from the source to your computer through the connection. Downloading and uploading times are measured separately, and can be quite different. If you type in a website address, the speed that the page loads would be the download time. If you are adding pictures to Facebook, that would be a type of upload. The following image, from the Public Service Commission’s Broadband Reference Guide, shows the vast time difference for downloading a movie between different Mbps speeds:

 Broadband speed

You can see that the DSL time is pretty slow with a speed of 1.54 Mbps. And trying to perform this task with the speed capabilities of dial-up is completely unrealistic.

To put these numbers into perspective, the National Broadband Plan has a goal for standard broadband availability to be 4 Mbps download time and 1 Mbps upload time. It’s important to recognize that the speeds that service providers advertise may not be accurate – they are based on an estimated speed for the coverage areas. Distance from the company’s central office, how many users are online, the type of connection, or even weather can affect the actual speed you receive.

Not every home and business requires the same speed capabilities. For example, if you use the internet just to send and check basic emails, dial-up speeds may be acceptable. However, in today’s world, many household have multiple laptops and devices going online at the same time. This is especially true if your household includes students, as many textbooks and homework assignments are now online. The following graph demonstrates this point:

 Broadband mbps needs

So if you are checking your email while watching HD TV on your laptop, and your son is playing his favorite video game on Xbox Live, you would want roughly 6 Mbps of speed. Check your connection speed online at the LinkWisconsin’s Speed Test.

What is Broadband like in Vilas County?

LinkWisconsin conducted a Consumer Broadband Study in December, 2010. For the purposes of the study, Vilas County is considered a part of Region 2, along with Oneida, Lincoln, Langlade and Forest Counties. Some interesting statistics from the study –

  • 64% – Percent of Wisconsin with access to broadband service.
  • 50% – Region 2’s connectedness, significantly lower than the state’s average.
  • 26% – Percent of Region 2 that falls in the medium spectrum of broadband speed (1.5 – 6 Mbps).
  • 42% – Basic speed access (less than 1.5 Mbps) in Region 2

Region 2, and Vilas County, are falling behind on broadband availability. This is related to the fact that we live in a more rural area. It is more expensive for service providers to offer high-speed broadband services in rural areas because of large distances with less population, meaning lower overall demand.

The Vilas County Economic Development Corporation has partnered with the Lac Du Flambeau Tribe to conduct a broadband study to determine our county’s broadband status and need for further speed and availability. The goal is for at least 85% of the county to have access of a minimum of 3 Mbps of download speed. The study is conducted with the consideration that high-speed broadband availability will strengthen our local economy, and make Vilas County an even better place to live, vacation, and do business.

Learn More about Internet Service Options and how Broadband Access affects Small Businesses in Rural Communities on the Phelps Chamber Blog

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