Most Wisconsin residents, even in rural areas, now have access to high-speed internet connections. State officials told Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) this week that a combination of federal and state grants and private-public partnerships have succeeded in bringing at least one broadband provider to many remote locations.

Only some rural areas in the west of the state near the Iowa and Minnesota borders and one small pocket in Ashland and Iron Counties are still without broadband coverage. Wisconsin State Telecommunications Association executive director Bill Esbeck said that total coverage is the goal, but that it is hindered by low population densities and rugged topography. In certain small areas, he said, it doesn't make business sense for providers to extend their services.

Maria Alvarez-Stroud of the University of Wisconsin-Extension stressed that broadband internet is a necessity and no longer a luxury. For rural areas, a lack of broadband can directly lead to loss of population. Conversely, the whole state can benefit economically from improved connections, which make Wisconsin's businesses more competitive.

Wisconsin Public Service Commission broadband director Tithi Chattopadhyay said officials are working to help rural small businesses realize the value of setting up a website and teaching them how they can use the internet to improve their financial results.

"I think they're moving in the right direction," he said. "Of course access is part of the issue, but we're working on making sure more people adopt the technology and utilize the technology effectively."

Local IT consultants can provide web programming and support services to Wisconsin businesses, whether they are new to the internet or simply looking to expand their online presence.