Broadband

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Many in the Northwoods do not have access to high speed broadband internet. That’s a critical gap in modern living, especially with the health emergency keeping people at home. State grants through the Public Service Commission have recently been awarded to some communities and counties to help remedy the situation.

Public Service Commission of Wisconsin

The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) recently launched a customer service phone line for people who need help locating phone or internet service during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Callers can speak with a PSC Consumer Affairs staff person who will walk through internet and phone service options available in their area and discuss eligibility for discounts on critical communications services.

Pandemic Underscores Wisconsin's Broadband Woes

Apr 3, 2020
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MADISON, Wis. - Like other states, Wisconsin is trying to function during the pandemic with workers and students connecting online in their homes. But there are fears that a lack of broadband access will leave rural residents behind.

According to the tracking firm BroadbandNow, Wisconsin has consistently ranked near the bottom among states in providing high-speed internet to all areas. And the Federal Communications Commission says 28% of rural Wisconsin has no broadband access.

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Five projects in the region have obtained funding from the next round of Public Service Commission of Wisconsin broadband grant funding.

The largest grant was $1.6 million to the Town of Boulder Junction fiber project. The project will build fiber line to 85 business and 660 residences.

In Forest county, nearly $1 million was granted to build 17 wireless transmission tower sites in Forest county.The project will also build 11 miles of wire to roads near Lake Metonga. It will serve 100 businesses and nearly 1,700 residences.

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Forest county residents will be watching an expected February announcement from the state about grants to expand broadband.

The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin is considering nearly $50 million in higher-speed internet requests across the state. The state is said to have about $24 million to share.

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A spokesperson says the goal is to get high speed internet access to every person who wants it in the Town of Boulder Junction.

The town, along with CenturyLink, have filed a broadband expansion grant application with the state to fund expansion during 2020. Dennis Aukstik is chair of the town Economic Development/Connect Communities Committee.

The state has $24 million in grant money. Boulder Junction filed a two-year application..

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The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin has certified the Town of Boulder Junction as a Telecommuter Forward community.

Wisconsin is the first state to encourage telecommuting in this manner. The goal is to have more people work from home, but it requires higher-speed internet access.

Boulder Junction Economic Development committee chair Dennis Aukstik says this program encourages towns to upgrade broadband so more people can work from home...

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The Boulder Junction Economic Development/Connect Communities Committee is holding two meetings soon to look at options for high-speed internet.

The committee's volunteer chair Dennis Aukstik says a 2017 survey found a long list of potential challenges. He says the number one challenge reported was broadband internet access...

"...We took those answers to heart and have now begun a process to try to identify what our broadband strengths and weaknesses are. What our challenges are in expanding our broadband. We are seeking public input on those questions..."

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A 100-thousand dollar grant from the state will help expand broadband internet access to more parts of Oneida County.

The Oneida County Economic Development Corporation was notified by the Public Service Commission they will receive $100,000 of $218 thousand dollars requested to flesh out more fast internet to underserved areas. Development Corporation Executive Director Roger Luce says there was lots of competition for the money... 

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Oneida county is making sure its name is in the mix when new state funding for faster internet is available.

The Board of Supervisors approved sending a letter to state broadband funders saying the county is working hard to get more service to rural areas.

Dave Noel from the Oneida County Broadband Development Committee said current providers were not interested in expanding service four years ago. He says a local company, Northwoods Connect was interested and uses fixed wireless delivery.

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If it is approved, passes both chambers of the legislature, and is signed, it looks like there will be more money coming in the next budget for higher speed internet service in rural Wisconsin.

During a Q & A session at a recent Grow North meeting, a member of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, State Senator Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst, said the budget panel is funding more broadband...

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High speed internet has arrived for some Northwoods residents and more is on the way.

Rhinelander-based Northwoods Connect Founder and CEO Paul Osterman says a new tower has gone live north of Rhinelander...

"....just completed and just launched the Newbold tower. The tower itself is located by Newbold Fire Station #2. That was built in cooperation with the town of Newbold. The service is active and live and we are currently putting on subscribers in the Newbold area....."

Osterman says other towers are being set up...

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A tangible piece of Northwoods broadband expansion will be available in the Newbold area of Oneida county within a few weeks. Other locations will also soon have service.

Northwoods Connect based in Rhinelander is using recent state grants and other money to construct a 180 foot tower near Two Sisters Lake which company CEO Paul Osterman says will provide faster internet in areas with slower internet or none at all.

The signal should cover about five miles and is part of an expansion in the rural Northwoods...

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Governor Walker is asking the legislature to make large investments in upgrading high speed internet in mostly rural areas of the state.

In comments prepared by his office, Walker asked the legislature to act...

"....today we called on the state legislature to provide an additional $35.5 million dollars for broadband expansion and technology improvements over the next three years...."

He also wants money to go to schools...

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A key point of emphasis in Governor Scott Walker's speech last week in Minocqua centered on the need for getting everyone in the Northwoods access to high-speed internet.

The state has been providing grant assistance to business to put service in rural areas.

"....my goal in this budget cycle is to have the resources, doing it in conjunction with the federal resources. In the second(federal grant) round, Wisconsin was one of the top states in terms of what was awarded. Take the federal resources, state resources and blanket the state...."

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