MADISON, Wis. - People in rural areas face a number of challenges in connecting to the internet. Members of the Wisconsin Farmers Union said the rollback of net neutrality has the potential to make matters worse for them.
Tommy Enright owns a farm in central Wisconsin and works as a communications associate for the Wisconsin Farmers Union. He currently pays $113 a month for 30 Mbps, while people in urban communities could be paying half that amount for internet that is five times faster.
"One of the avenues that people who are in favor of the repeal say: 'Well, you can just use another internet provider if you aren't happy with your service there,'" Enright said. "But for people in rural America, we don't have that choice."
Parts of the state, even in Dane County, only have one internet service provider, meaning rural residents may not get to choose which provider they use.
According to BroadbandNow.com, 19 percent of the state is considered "underserved," meaning people have access to fewer than two wired providers.
"High-speed internet has become a vital utility in our lives," said Amy Eckelberg, a spokesperson for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation. "It’s no different for farmers and rural business owners. In order to stay competitive they need access to affordable high-speed broadband service."
Mitch Breunig, of Mystic Valley Dairy in Sauk City, said getting high-speed internet really changed his business's technological capabilities.
"We actually were just able to install cameras on our farm, and they're cloud-based, and so from anywhere in the world I can look at my farm," Breunig said.
Using the cameras, he's able to keep an eye on cows about to give birth and make sure everything is in its place in the cow barn. He said before he got high-speed internet a few years ago, this wouldn't have been a possibility.
But the net neutrality rollback could affect rural communities positively, experts say.
Steve Noll, a marketing professor at Madison Area Technical College, said net neutrality rules could give internet providers a financial incentive to invest in rural communities.
"One of the things that a lot of the big internet companies want to do is to be able to invest more into rural and more outlying communities that don't have a lot of broadband internet service now," Noll said.
Data shows 86 percent of the state currently has broadband coverage.
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