The Baileys Harbor Town Board has taken three steps in the direction of providing fiber-optic internet access to all households and businesses in town.
However, the board did not approve everything brought forward Monday evening by the town’s Broadband Ad Hoc Committee, which is chaired by Kurt Keifer and includes David Greco, Peter Jacobs, Sam Nelson and Evan Webster.
The board voted to work on a contract with a system builder and operator, and it committed to getting conduit buried when rights-of-way are excavated anywhere in town for road projects or other work during the next couple of years. Kiefer said that when a Ridges Road project was going on, the town missed an opportunity to bury conduit for fiber.
Kiefer proposed that the town give a verbal commitment to spend up to $6 million to extend fiber-optic line to every home or business in the town. He said that commitment would make it easy for the town to apply for a history-making amount of grant funds that are currently available for rural broadband.
The elected officials did not vote on Kiefer’s proposal. Instead, board members Sue Tishler, Roberta Thelen and Don Sitte said residents should be allowed to decide to commit the funds at the annual town meeting in April.
The board did agree to spend up to $150,000 on an engineering study, which Tishler said could strengthen the grant application. Baileys Harbor’s chances of getting a large sum for rural broadband should also be strengthened by its residents’ great participation in a survey of their needs for better internet service. Kiefer said he spent a career applying for grants, and he was amazed to get responses from 250 out of 400 households.
“That shows how important this issue is in this township, and how underserved the community is,” he said.
Two-thirds of respondents said they would sign up if the town and its partner provided better broadband, and one-fourth said they might sign up. Kiefer considered that a positive response from nine out of 10 households.
After the committee analyzed proposals from eight companies and forwarded four finalists to the board, town officials approved the committee’s No. 1 candidate, Nsight Teleservices, to work as a long-term partner in providing broadband fiber lines to all premises within the township.
The committee favored companies with strong ties to Door County or northeast Wisconsin, as well as companies with good reputations. Kiefer said Nsight, an affiliate of Cellcom, already has a good backbone of fiber that zigzags northward up the peninsula, and it’s working with Washington Island Electrical Co-op to make quality internet service available to all island businesses and households. Nsight is also working with the Town of Liberty Grove, is talking with Jacksonport and Sevastopol, and completed a “broadband-to-premises” project in Luxemburg.
Kiefer said the committee sought references about Nsight, and key words from those included “high-quality work,” “honest,” “transparent,” “trustworthy” and “incredibly professional.”