Bertram Building Out a Broadband Backbone

When Bertram Communications purchased Baileys Harbor–based Door County Broadband (DCB) in April 2022, Jim Bertram, CEO and president, said he planned to build a fiber-optic network in Door County – a move that would bolster DCB’s wireless network and offer faster speeds and stability to its customers, Bertram said at the time.

As motorists who regularly travel Highway 57 can attest, that middle-mile construction has been happening since early this year.

Sarah Lawrenz, Bertram’s office administrator, said the company is constructing the fiber backbone from Sturgeon Bay north to Rowleys Bay, eventually heading over to Egg Harbor and up to Fish Creek.

It’s not in the business plan to eliminate the fixed wireless services that Bertram/DCB currently offers.

“It’s about setting up a backbone to feed the current wireless customers,” said Nate Bell, Bertram/DCB network engineer. “It will put the existing DCB customers in a better place. It’s not going to be massively different, but it will provide a far more stable base.”

The middle mile is basically the midsection infrastructure that will enable cost-effective internet connectivity for future growth. It connects immediate areas – versus the last mile that goes to end users – and is the “head connectivity to all of Door County,” Lawrenz said.

Their middle mile’s eventual path isn’t “set in stone until we cut into the stone,” Lawrenz said – of which there’s plenty along the route and in Door County generally. But Bertram trenches fiber instead of stringing it aerially along telephone poles, and the rock didn’t shock the company. 

Photo by Rachel Lukas.

“The rock down 57 has made it a slower go, but in other areas, we’ve made up the time,” Lawrenz said. “We feel we did our homework pretty good for those crews to work with. We knew going into it what the expectations were.”

The company is hoping to partner with municipalities in Door County that are in various stages of selecting internet service provider (ISP) partners to deliver fiber to their communities. 

“This is a substantial commitment to the community that Bertram has put out there,” Bell said.

“This is our hometown, and we want to grow with the community,” Lawrenz said.

The towns of Clay Banks and Nasewaupee have selected Bertram as their ISP, but the process is still open for many municipalities. Lawrenz said Bertram wants to be ready when those towns and villages make their decisions. 

“It will give us a lot more flexibility when we do these fiber projects,” Lawrenz said. “Let’s say Fish Creek [Town of Gibraltar] wants to partner with Bertram; we [would] have the infrastructure there. It lets us do those projects much more nimbly and more cost effectively for that municipality.”

Bertram’s fiber is going through the heart of towns such as Jacksonport and Baileys Harbor, and it will pick up a good piece of Liberty Grove. Yet all three of those towns have already selected an ISP, and it’s not Bertram: Jacksonport selected Frontier, and Baileys Harbor and Liberty Grove, Nsight. 

That means customers who don’t have any fiber options now would have more than one in the future. Lawrenz said they’d let everyone know once they get to the point of offering service from their middle mile, which she said would be at speeds of 250 megabits per second (mbps) symmetrical (upload and download). They will also offer 1 gigabit (GB) symmetrical, with future growth of 5-10 GB, Lawrenz said. 

“We don’t want to overpromise, but our goal is to have it lit in 2023,” she said.

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