Founded in 1907 in Wisconsin, the Public Service Commission (PSC) is an independent regulatory agency that monitors and regulates public utilities. It is responsible for more than 1,100 utilities including reliable, high-speed broadband Internet across the Midwest.
One of its main missions is to bridge the digital divide in Internet connectivity and ensure that most of the state’s residents are connected to the Internet.
Whether we are talking about transparency in governance, or digital public services and increased citizen participation, uninterrupted internet connectivity is key. The Commission recognizes the usefulness of geospatial and location information in gaining actionable, data-driven insights that help decision makers formulate strategies and take remedial action.
The Commission has a long partnership with Esri, and it uses ArcGIS Enterprise and ArcGIS Online for geoprocessing, mapping, and sharing of geospatial knowledge. It also collaborates with geospatial technology experts at Esri to deliver innovative solutions and improve existing solutions for better collection and sharing of contact data.
“Geospatial and location-based knowledge is essential to the communication planning and road mapping that we do. At the most basic level, you have to ask yourself, where is the Internet, and where is it not. Geospatial data and tools help us look at this holistically and are essential components of a map Our contact way Says Colter Sikora, President of GIS, Wisconsin Public Service Commission, in an exclusive interview.
Mapping is essential to identify patterns and spot anomalies so that planners and policy makers can fix them. Do such peculiarities exist in Wisconsin that have been resolved using GIS?
This is a great question and I’ve never heard of it directly in the language as you’ve presented it.
I think the big thing that we’ve been doing here in Wisconsin is working with our mapping partners, especially Internet Service Providers (ISPs), to build improved processes for mapping broadband coverage data.
With the old federal standards for broadband mapping, we saw an opportunity to work with ISPs to make broadband data collection more accurate and timely by collecting increasingly accurate coverage data.
Last year, nearly half of Wisconsin ISPs helped improve our maps by voluntarily submitting accurate coverage data. We look forward to working with the new federal mapping standards and processes to continue improving our data.
With new data challenge and technical workflows, we believe we can use new tools to help identify unrecognized patterns and anomalies to help bridge the statewide digital divide.
According to official estimates, more than 400,000 rural Wisconsin residents do not have a broadband connection, while others have very slow internet. This indicates a digital divide. What is the agency’s strategy to reduce it, and what role can spatial techniques play in it?
This is a far-reaching question and has some overlap with the following question. I will give you a geospatial summary of what we need to do to bridge our digital divide. Emphasizing the “three as before”, we need to continue to improve the basis for broadband access mapping. Our ability to effectively determine affordability is based on a solid foundation of access maps.
This includes the base address, population, and structure data that supports the access mapping. Another important component is nurturing partnerships with cartographers in federal, state and local government units as well as our ISPs.
Wisconsin has a very strong core of county government mapping, and fellow state agencies do a lot of good work as well. This talent provides good opportunities for partnership from a geospatial perspective to present ideas and publish plans to bring people online.
The Governor’s Broadband Task Force 2022 report highlights progress in ensuring connectivity, but an unconnected population remains. He recommends building an active network and aligning with the community as a focus area. How does the agency plan to achieve this?
We need to put our communities in touch with players at all levels of broadband planning to ensure we don’t do redundant work and waste money.
With the rapid influx of funding for broadband expansion today, the more we can connect our communities, including their GIS teams, to align with what’s happening with ISPs, state and federal government, the more efficiently we can deploy strategies and infrastructure, and programming To attract people online without leaving anyone behind.
What do you think can be done to enhance communication with local communities, and tell us any recent rural success story?
This can be answered in several ways. I will focus on how geospatial data is intertwined with awareness. This is an evolving story, but our mapping team has developed a broadband speed test and survey tool to get a quantitative and qualitative view of the state of broadband connectivity across Wisconsin.
In fact, this was a nice situation where we partnered with Esri to create an even more powerful data collection tool, but that story could be for another day. We recently worked with Door County to publish this Wisconsin Internet Self-Report (WISER) through their rural district.
By discussing the pros and cons of WISER and the partnership tools, we were able to publish the survey and develop a communication strategy so that people could participate in this data collection. With Door County’s direct promotional approach, we’ve collected hundreds of responses in just the last few weeks.
This allows us to study and understand local connectivity and anticipate what we might see when we deploy WISER in all 72 Wisconsin counties. The county is looking to use the WISER results as an analytical tool so they can enhance broadband planning as well.
This ability to create and share resources helps all of our networked communities better understand what we need to connect everyone in Wisconsin with broadband.
How important is geography and location to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission’s Communication Roadmap?
Geospatial or location-based knowledge is essential for communication planning and road mapping that we do in Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC).
Of course, on a basic level, you have to ask yourself, “Where is the Internet available and where is it lacking here in Wisconsin?” However, the use of geospatial knowledge bypasses this question. The way we look at this has led us to break the puzzle of internet connectivity into what we call the “three as” access, affordability, and dependency.
Essentially, we need to understand where people can’t access, where they can’t afford to use the internet, and where they aren’t embracing internet use for us to bridge the digital divide in Wisconsin. Geospatial data and tools help us look at this holistically and are essential components of the Wisconsin Connectivity Roadmap.
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