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Wisconsin’s Rural People Feel “Neglected And Abandoned”

Access to high-speed Internet is crucial for the survival of Wisconsin's rural population, according to a grassroots organizer who says politicians have abandoned rural people. (UW Extension)
Access to high-speed Internet is crucial for the survival of Wisconsin's rural population, according to a grassroots organizer who says politicians have abandoned rural people. (UW Extension)
December 16, 2015

MADISON, Wis. - Political leaders of both parties don't listen to rural people, according to the grassroots group Blue Jean Nation. Mike McCabe says there are issues critical to rural Wisconsin which should be addressed by both Democrats and Republicans.

One of the biggest issues is lack of broadband Internet access in many rural parts of the state, something McCabe called a huge unfulfilled need.

"More than half of rural residents do not have access to high-speed Internet," he said. "Most of them can't get cell phone signals, either, out where they live, so they can't fully participate in the 21st-century economy and they can't fully participate in American life."

McCabe said high-speed Internet access is fundamental to any sort of business today. He criticized Gov. Scott Walker's decision in 2011 to turn down $23 million in federal money that would have helped bring high-speed Internet to 380 rural Wisconsin communities. Walker, who consistently has turned down federal funds for anything, said the state shouldn't rely on the feds.

Another issue of crucial importance to rural Wisconsin, according to McCabe, is to rethink what he called "bypass-happy highway planning." McCabe said shaving a few minutes off a commuter's travel time often becomes a death sentence for small rural towns.

"Nobody goes through these rural towns as they travel anymore," he said, "and so the local cafes and restaurants and local establishments close down and the main streets die and those rural communities suffer."

McCabe said Wisconsin has concentrated too much highway spending on urban areas with huge multi-million-dollar traffic interchanges. He said rural Wisconsin's needs for small, high-quality two-lane roads are ignored in favor of what he called "multi-lane monstrosities with cloverleafs and traffic circles."

McCabe cited research showing that conditions in many rural areas have deteriorated to the point where there are alarming trends in mortality rates. He said our political leaders can't afford to continue to neglect rural Americans.

"Nothing's been done in decades and, of course, rural people have noticed that," he said. "They've felt neglected and they've felt abandoned by political leaders in this country - and there's an opportunity to reconnect with rural people."

McCabe's commentary is online at bluejeannation.com.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI