It was a year of expanding high-speed Internet access to rural communities in western Wisconsin. In July, Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services, located in Ellsworth, launched Swift Current Connect, extending broadband access to communities within its coverage area.
In October, the Wisconsin Civil Service Commission announced the recipients of the broadband access grants through funding approved by Governor Tony Evers. Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services received funding for nine projects.
The St. Croix County Oversight Board has learned the county has a long way to go before most residents have sufficient broadband access after conducting research.
By the end of the year, PPCS intended to install 175 miles of fiber optic cables following its electrical distribution system, serving 1,500 homes.
“We saw a need for services because in a rural area we just don’t see a lot of options for people,” said Brooke Cupp, Member and Community Relations Coordinator at MYP.
Although PPCS has 175 miles of fiber installation planned, there are approximately 800 miles in total to be installed to serve the entire community, said Nate Boettcher, President and CEO of PPCS, during his speech at the groundbreaking ceremony in July.
“Fiber is the long-term investment,” said Joe Folsom, executive director of the Pierce County Economic Development Corporation, during a speech at the ceremony.
In October, the Wisconsin Civil Service Commission awarded $ 99,932,502 for 83 projects that will extend high-speed fiber internet to more than 28,426 residential and 1,490 currently unserved and underserved commercial locations in 40 counties and three tribal lands. The grants are funded by the American Rescue Plan Act. Fellows will provide matching funds of $ 101,942,388.
The PSC received 242 requests requesting more than $ 440 million for projects that will be completed by December 31, 2024.
PPCS received funding for nine projects through ARPA funding which will bring broadband to locations in Ellsworth, Clifton, River Falls, El Paso, Martell, Hartland, Oak Grove, Kinnickinnic and Trimbelle.
On December 6, Design Nine representative Jack Maytum presented supervisors with a detailed summary of the broadband study initially commissioned by the county in March of this year.
The aim of the study was to assess the accessibility and quality of broadband services as they currently exist across the county and to recommend “strategies for making fast and reliable Internet access accessible to the greatest number of people. number of households, businesses and institutions across the county. “
Design Nine has held meetings and interviews starting in May with a wide range of stakeholders, including businesses and county staff. A 25-question survey was mailed to residents and a separate survey of businesses across the county. Residents and business owners could access the survey online.
There were 5,465 responses to the residential survey and 144 responses to the business survey. Over 100 pages of poll commentary are included in the broadband poll results document.
According to the report, “St. Croix County has many areas hampered by low-end broadband in the form of DSL, very limited wireless internet, expensive satellite internet access and service. very limited cable modem. They also have very limited broadband in the form of fiber to a few companies and institutions. “
The study points out that the recent pandemic has only accelerated the movement towards working from home, a movement that has proven to be more profitable for employers (office rental) and employees (transportation).
The study recommends that the county not become a supplier. Different strategies that would allow the county to maintain the skin in the game without becoming a supplier include building the fiber network in the middle mile and leasing access to ISPs and WISPS who would solicit, install and maintain access to households and to companies in the intermediate mile network.
The administrative committee is scheduled to review the study at its December 21 meeting and make strategic recommendations to the supervisory board at its January 4 meeting.