Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Heated communication faults boil beneath state Capitol’s dome

I wanted to write this column about mobile communication tools; I really did. People all over the world have been bringing innovations mainstream as they document the unrest in their communities, giving resistance movements traction as they bypass traditional means of communication.

But as I looked to test things out for myself as I walked among the tens of thousands of people protesting Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill, one thing became incredibly clear: the state Capitol is completely inhospitable to modern technology.

Unreliable Internet


On any given day, the state Capitol pulses with activity. For anyone in need of wireless Internet to get things done, the unprotected “guest” network is accessible from most places within the Capitol.

During the last week and a half, however, the thousands of people attempting to use guest have rendered it unbearably slow or inaccessible.

Wi-Fi operates via radio signals, and your computer or mobile device and a router send data back and forth that is then decoded. This give-and-take is limited by the network’s bandwidth capacity, which determines how much data can be communicated at a given time.

A month ago, guest’s bandwidth was enough to allow those coming and going from the Capitol to comfortably access the Internet. Now is a different story.

An upgrade would cost money – something the state is very publicly concerned about at the moment – but making guest accessible at all times should be a no-brainer. To quote the Wisconsin State Legislature website, “the free and open exchange of information is essential to our democratic form of government and… the Internet provides a useful means of facilitating the communication and exchange of information about state government.”

When people inside the building can’t figure out where a meeting is being held or a hearing has been moved to because they don’t have access to the Internet, something is seriously wrong.

Quick fix: the Teaching Assistants’ Association has set up an independent Wi-Fi network for those working with them. If you are working independently and have reliable access to a cellular data network, you can research online how to turn your cell phone into a router. You can also look into a USB broadband device that allows you to access the Internet without a local Wi-Fi hotspot.

Unreliable cell phone reception

When the Internet is not working, many peoples’ next move is to attempt to access their cell phone’s data network. But, mainly for those using AT&T, this has also been unavailable in some cases.

This is because of what I like to call the “Camp Randall effect.” Much like with the Internet situation, when you have a bunch of people crowded into one area who are all trying to access the same network, data transfer is going to slow considerably or be denied. At least for me, when the Capitol is at its most crowded, that has meant no calls, texts, tweets or general Internet access.

This, to be fair, is the cell phone carriers’ fault. In the case of AT&T, the Capitol region has the best access possible to its data and voice coverage, but it still is not enough. AT&T actually has a team that monitors where major events are occurring and tweaks the network based on needs, so it would not be out of the question for someone from the Capitol to get in contact with AT&T officials to address this problem.

Quick fix: if you cross the street that defines Capitol Square, the problem seems to fix itself. Otherwise, borrow a friend’s phone or switch to a new carrier.

Anti-technology culture

This is where I really take issue with things at the Capitol. Beyond there being almost no accessible outlets to charge electronics, there is a general rule that use of a laptop or phone in a Senate, Assembly or committee meeting is banned. The one time I had a chance to enter a meeting – way back when the Joint Finance Committee was considering the budget repair bill – the staffer recruiting people to attend turned me away because I had a laptop.

Twenty years from now, this rule will no longer exist. It is outdated and a nuisance when integrating Internet-researched information with what is happening in front of you is so common. People need to be able to communicate what is going on to others, especially when they are witnessing it first-hand.

Quick fix: many people simply ignore the rule and use their laptop or phone anyway. You may get some glares, but what’s another challenge to the status quo anyway?

Capitol kudos

Tech staff has made some necessary changes to address the ebbing crowds, and for that they deserve some praise. At first, protesters – often separated by just a door from decisions being made – were often the last to know about a new development because the sound system in the rotunda was so terrible. The WisconsinEye broadcasts the three tiny televisions display are still almost impossible to see, but at least those inside can now hear what is going on.

My second kudos goes out to staff for unblocking the Defend Wisconsin website. That is actually a thinly veiled complaint because it should have never been blocked in the first place, but I hope staff is currently working on fixing the system they claim led to its blockage.

Signe Brewster is a junior majoring in life sciences communication. Have you encountered other problems with technology at the Wisconsin state Capitol? E-mail her at [email protected].

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