TOWN OF PACIFIC, Wis. — Broadband is an essential part of Catherine and Todd Heller’s lives.

What You Need To Know

  • Efforts are underway to expand broadband access in Wisconsin and the nation

  • Charter Communications has received about $168 million in federal funding administered by the state to extend broadband to rural areas

  • Broadband is a key asset for both work and quality of life for state’s residents

The couple live in rural Columbia County and work from home.

Catherine Heller is an independent health coach. Both she and Todd work from offices in their home.

“The client base I have, I do weekly check-ins with them. We do Zooms together to check in on their progress,” Catherine Heller said. “I use that for celebrations. I use that for coach check-ins to see how they’re doing.” 

The home had internet access when they moved in, but not to the level they needed for work. Spectrum broadband service was extended to their home in late 2022.

“We were literally contemplating, ‘will we be able to continue staying out here to run our businesses?’ We both highly depend on that,” Catherine Heller said. “It was a matter of we either need to go find office space somewhere or move. When this happened, it was a huge stress relief for us.”

Across the hall, Todd Heller works for a company that makes medium- and high-voltage electrical equipment.

“We’d drive half an hour, 45 minutes, to get reliable service. We’d have to plan our days around meetings if we knew about it,” Todd Heller said. “The unfortunate part is we don’t always know when those meetings and things happen. Sometimes we’d be missing meetings, we wouldn’t be able to participate. We’d have to go on phone calls instead of Teams meetings.”

(Spectrum News 1/Nathan Phelps)

After moving from Dane County three years ago, the couple realized they needed a more robust connection after trying several options.

“We purchased no less than $2,500 worth of equipment on probably six different systems wiring the house,” Todd Heller said. “Whether it’s going up on our antenna and amplifying things or buying MiFis or routers or mesh systems. We even hired a professional to come into our house to tell them how to best make this happen for us.”  

Steve Pate, the chairman of the Town of Pacific where the Hellers live, sees the expansion of broadband as a necessity for residents.

“Access to broadband today is the same as it would have been the telephone back in the ‘30s,” he said. “We have students out here going to school who need high-speed internet. We have elderly people who use the high-speed internet for health care. It’s very important every home in our township has access to high-speed internet.” 

Street by street, Pate pointed to which areas have broadband through federal funding, and which are still being worked on.

The township entered a public-private partnership with Charter Communications to fill in the homes awaiting service by the end of 2024.

“I’m really happy with the fact every home will have access to it. Whether they take it or not is up to them, but at least they’ll have the access to broadband.”

(Spectrum News 1/Nathan Phelps)

Charter Communications has received about $168 million in federal funding administered by the state to extend broadband to rural areas.

The company is also investing $500 million in addition to the $168 million awarded in Federal Communications Commission funding statewide, in order to provide high-speed internet to 140,000 new homes and business across Wisconsin. That includes more than 4,000 locations in Columbia County.

Since 2019, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission has deployed more than $345 million dollars to improve access or build new access to about 395,000 homes in Wisconsin.

Commission figures indicate about 10% of the state remains unserved and 18% are underserved.

State Rep. John Plumer (R-Lodi) said broadband access is vital for businesses in Wisconsin.

“The problem we’re running into, and I talk to the stakeholders in the broadband industry, is that there’s so much money coming into it that the pipeline is full as far as what they can get done in a short period of time, which I guess is a good problem,” he said. “You can’t understate how important it is to both individuals and small business to have internet access.”

At the national level, Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin said while federal funding is providing access, it also needs to be kept affordable. 

“There are some for whom the price of high-speed broadband is out of reach,” she said. “Low-income working people often have trouble, so there is an affordability program right now that is running out of funding and we have a measure before the congress right now that will add dollars to that depleted fund so that we can make sure that people will continue to have affordable access.”

(Spectrum News 1/Nathan Phelps)

The Hellers said the addition of broadband allows them to live and work in the rolling hills of Columbia County. 

 “This gives us the opportunity to say we can stay here for as long as we want because we’ll be doing our businesses for many years to come,” Catherine Heller said.

Charter Communications is the parent company of Spectrum News 1.