Baileys Harbor Broadband Ad Hoc Committee Receives $1.89 Million Grant

The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin voted last week to approve a $1.89 million grant for the Town of Baileys Harbor. The grant, submitted by the Baileys Harbor Broadband Ad Hoc Committee (BAHC), will be put toward the town’s broadband-infrastructure project to provide high-speed internet to homes and businesses in Baileys Harbor.

Grant applications were due to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin only three months ago, said Baileys Harbor BAHC chair Kurt Kiefer. 

“This is probably as rapid a turnaround as the commission has had on any of the previous rounds,” Kiefer said. “They do a great job, having worked with all the different things related to broadband over the years.”

The next step is to learn about the grant’s reporting requirements, Kiefer said, and BAHC’s partner company, Nsight Telservices, will assist with that process.

Then an engineering analysis, which determines what kind of construction is necessary, will begin. The analysis will determine where broadband can be implemented aerially, where cables must be buried and where equipment can be placed.

BAHC already has a rough idea of what broadband construction will look like.

“Where you see utilities currently aerial overhead, that’s more than likely where it’ll be aerial overhead with the fiber,” Kiefer said, “and where utilities are buried, that’s where we’ll probably be underground.” 

The engineering analysis is expected to take four months, likely beginning this summer and ending in early fall. 

In addition to determining what sort of construction must take place, the analysis will also determine the exact cost of the project.

“We’ve been working off of really sound assumptions about what it costs to serve an area this size,” Kiefer said, so BAHC does not expect to be surprised by the official price tag.

The $1.89 million grant makes up less than half of the estimated $5 million cost of the broadband-infrastructure project. The remaining funding will come from several sources. Nsight will contribute around $400,000, and Lawrence University, which has a retreat center at Björklunden in Baileys Harbor, will contribute $100,000 to help ensure that its students and staff have internet access during retreats at Björklunden.

The town is also expected to borrow money for the remainder, which will cost local taxpayers an estimated $10 per month. Kiefer said the tradeoff will be a reduction in taxpayers’ current internet bills, plus 30 times better service.

After the engineering analysis is finished, construction bids can begin – a process that will likely take two to three months. If everything goes smoothly, construction can begin in spring 2023.

“We should be able to complete the entire project and make high-speed fiber available to every resident business in the township of Baileys Harbor, all within the 2023 calendar year,” Kiefer said.

According to Kiefer, the investment will address a “desperate need” for reliable internet in Baileys Harbor, allowing businesses to thrive and residents to stay connected.

“It’s needed, and it’s coming, and we’re just very excited about it,” he said.