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Nation: New 'Wired Wisconsin' effort to focus on broadband access, high-tech jobs

By Brian E. Clark
For WisBusiness.com

As a self-described “baseline techie geek from way back when,” Thad Nation jumped at the chance to head up the newly formed Wired Wisconsin -- a group that wants to boost technological growth in Wisconsin and bring broadband to all regions of the state.

“I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a personal computer at home,” said Nation, who owns a Milwaukee communications firm and was once communications director for Gov. Jim Doyle. He also was press secretary for Indiana Gov. Frank O'Bannon and created the Hoosier governor’s first Web site.

“I’ve tended to be on the cutting edge, if not the bleeding edge of technology in my own life. It’s an issue I care about a lot,” said Nation, who is in his mid-30s.

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The non-profit group's top issue will be broadband access in Wisconsin -- outside of the state's metropolitan areas, Nation said broadband options are spotty.

“In urban areas, it’s pretty good,” he said. “But there are limitations there. As you get into some of the poorer neighborhoods, you start to see some question about speeds and access rates.

“And once you get outside the core triangle of Green Bay to Madison to southeast Wisconsin, you start running into some real limitations and difficulties,” Nation said. “I’ve got a good friend who lives in Tomahawk and he can’t get a broadband connection at his home for any price.

“These are issues for education and for economic development,” he said. “Broadband is the challenge of the next few years to make sure that universal broadband is available to everyone.”

Nation said he hopes federal stimulus package money headed Wisconsin’s way will help with broadband development.

“It’s certainly looking like that,” he said. “We are still working through the details. But this will take a combined effort of private business and government to get it done.

“There has to be a will to make sure all the homes in Wisconsin are wired,” said Nation, comparing broadband access to rural electrification and putting telephones in every home.

“Certainly the Obama administration is saying all the right things and putting money behind that," he said. "Now it’s incumbent on us here in the state and take advantage of this opportunity and move this out.”

Overall, Nation said Wired Wisconsin will be focusing on technology and how it interacts with people’s lives. He said his group will not lobby legislators or the governor.

“We are a consumer-based organization and will work to educate policy-makers, consumers and businesses about technology-related legislative and regulatory issues ... and advocate for common-sense approaches to spur innovation and grow the economy,” he said.

“We won’t be doing any lobbying at this point, but that doesn’t mean we won’t get engaged and be talking about issues. There may be role for lobbying in the future.”

He said the organization began its efforts last year, recruiting members that include the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, Donovan Group, AT&T, Wisconsin Bio Industry Alliance and Insight Studio.

“We’re in talks with a whole host of other folks coming on board and we are working to enroll consumer members, too,” he added. “We really want this to be a broad-based organization because there are tech issues that affect virtually everyone’s life and every industry.

“We’re new ... but we’ve had a blog and Twitter feed going for several months now and people discovered us sooner than we ever expected them to,” he said.

Nation said he believes Wisconsin is in an ideal position to take advantage of world-class research institutions and natural and intellectual resources the state offers to drive economic growth.

"From wireless technologies and broadband deployment to green technologies to tele-medicine -- and everything in between -- Wired Wisconsin will advocate for technological development to keep Wisconsin moving forward," he said.

He said Wired Wisconsin will also promote e-learning, consumer privacy, electronic medical records and green technologies.

“These are hot-button issues, many of them in the news right now with the talk of the federal stimulus dollars coming down,” he said. “Those are things we will focus on, but we expect to talk about much more than that.”

After broadband access, Nation said high-tech job creation is the most important issue on his group’s agenda.

“We want to help create the next generation of jobs,” he said. “It’s very important that we have policies to make sure that we are not only training the next generation of workers, but also growing those jobs at home and bringing them in.”

Nation said every business is becoming more dependent on technology.

“It’s the reason for productivity gains,” he said. “Even digging a ditch requires the use of a GPS unit now.”

For more information on Wired Wisconsin, or to find out how to join the coalition, see www.wiredwisconsin.com.

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