The digital divide between urban and rural areas remains, and some question government grants aimed at addressing it

Rick Barrett::

It’s getting easier to find high-speed internet service in rural Wisconsin, yet there are still places where a robust online connection is as elusive as the Hodag, a mythical creature that legend says prowls the Northwoods.

What’s more, critics of government grants aimed at boosting the service across the country say much of the money is being spent on internet speeds that are obsolete.

When the service providers focus on short-term profit, rather than building the best possible network, it’s not good for rural America, said Christopher Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self Reliance, a Minneapolis nonprofit that helps communities with internet access issues.
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“I don’t blame the providers any more than I blame tigers when they maul humans. They are what they are. The problem is that government policy lets them do it,” Mitchell said.

The Federal Communications Commission defines high-speed internet, or broadband, as an online connection capable of handling at least 25 megabits per second of download data. That’s more than adequate for streaming a video and downloading documents.

In Wisconsin, the average download speed is 37.7 megabits per second for a wired connection, according to new figures from Ookla, a Seattle technology firm.

That’s up 42% from June 2016, but it’s still slower than the national average of 69 megabits per second.