CEDC investors had the opportunity to gather around the lunch table, have some tacos, and receive a broadband grant update. This topic is of utmost importance because as we enter what is known as the Sixth Wave of Innovation, the foundational basis is broadband. Communities that do not have high-speed internet are playing catch-up and are classified as still being in the Fifth Wave. Artificial intelligence and robotics, the Sixth Wave of Innovation, will be the driving economic base for growing communities in the future. For the Chippewa Valley to remain competitive, we will need to get even more aggressive in our support of high-speed broadband deployment.

Chippewa Valley telecoms have been aggressively working to expand high-speed internet coverage throughout the area, leveraging these broadband grant programs. Bloomer Telephone Co., Citizens Connected, Mosaic Technologies, Ntera, and West Wisconsin Telcom all provided updates on the uses of their past grant awards and gave an overview on their current grant application plans. Randy Scholz, Chippewa County Administrator, provided an update on the County’s current direction in allocating ARPA funds.

United Way Director Andy Neborak highlighted a program called Techquity. This program is a new collective impact initiative of United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County. Techquity’s goals are (1) Access: Ensuring all members of the community have access to affordable, reliable broadband; (2) Devices: Meet the community’s needs for digital devices required to be healthy and successful at work, school, and home; (3) Skills: Equipping the area with the necessary digital skills, literacy, and vocational opportunities to participate and excel in the digital economy; and (4) Advocacy: Using the United Way’s collective voice to fight for the digital equity and inclusion of every member of the community. Attendees provided feedback about the possibility of establishing this program in Chippewa County.

Finally, Representative Rob Summerfield (R, Bloomer) updated attendees on the activities of the State Legislature concerning broadband deployment. Rep. Summerfield is chair of the Committee on Science, Technology and Broadband. Currently, another round of broadband grant applications are due on Thursday, March 17, 2022, and this lunch provided a forum for the telecoms to update attendees on their plans and the status of the last grant funding rounds.