Broadband Summit Planned for Local Towns and Villages

Door County towns and villages have been working on public-private partnerships with internet service providers (ISP) to deliver high-quality, low-cost internet service to every address within their municipality. 

Ideally, the $1.055 billion the federal government awarded to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) earlier this year under the bi-partisan Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program will help municipalities achieve their goals. 

Among Door County’s 19 municipalities, only the City of Sturgeon Bay is considered fully served – which means only the city is not eligible for BEAD funding. In addition, two municipalities in Door County are not addressing broadband at this time: the villages of Ephraim and Forestville. 

For the rest of Door County interested in getting a piece of the $1.055 billion coming into Wisconsin for broadband projects, a Broadband Grant Education Summit has been planned by the County of Door’s broadband coordinator, Jessica Hatch. 

The summit takes place on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 5:30 pm, at Stone Harbor Resort, 107 N. 1st Ave., in Sturgeon Bay. Food will be provided and attendees are asked to RSVP by Nov. 1. A Zoom option is available, but participants are encouraged to attend in person. 

The summit will give participants a look inside the upcoming BEAD funding requirements and considerations, lessons learned, county broadband efforts and the details that will put a municipality’s best application forward for funding.

Some of those details – such as how that BEAD funding will be awarded – aren’t yet known. Hatch said that $1.055 billion is too large an amount to disperse fairly and equitably across the entire state with one or two open grant rounds.

“The talk around the water fountain is that there could be a grant round to start with using the first 20%, or some of that 20% in a grant round,” she said. “Then there could be a state map that has project areas, and ISPs would bid on those projects in those areas.” 

That “how” must be reviewed and approved by the state, so more clarity is due by year’s end, Hatch said. The first of the BEAD money is expected to become available mid-2024. 

Six Municipalities Working on Final State Grant

Nov. 7 is a grant application deadline date for six Door County municipalities that are working to get some of the final dollars the state is doling out for capital broadband projects. 

The Wisconsin legislature did not fund grants for broadband capital projects in the 2023-25 budget, as it has in past years, citing the federal BEAD money allocated for Wisconsin. The Capital Projects Fund grant that municipalities are working on now was administered at the discretion of the Governor for 2023. 

“This will be the last state opportunity for funding until there are any applications open for BEAD funding,” Hatch said.

The six local municipalities going for some of those dollars are the Town of Liberty Grove, working ISP partner, Nsight; the towns of Gibraltar and Clay Banks, each working with ISP partner Bertram Communications; the towns of Egg Harbor and Sevastopol, each working with ISP partner AT&T; and the Town of Gardner, working with ISP partner BrightSpeed.

More Providers Interested in Door County Market

BrightSpeed is a newly branded CenturyLink company.

“They retained the copper structure and are now wanting to build that out with fiber,” Hatch said.

BrightSpeed’s participation is an example of how the landscape has changed from even a year ago when Door County towns and villages were sending out Requests for Proposals (RFP) for ISPs to partner with on their broadband projects. Companies like AT&T and BrightSpeed that didn’t respond then are doing so now.

Sevastopol learned when it reissued an RFP after terminating its partnership with Bug Tussel in June. Jeanne Vogel, Sevastopol town board supervisor and chair of the town’s communications and technology committee, said they gained more interest and responses than the first time around. With five possible offers, the town selected AT&T. Since then, the towns of both Sturgeon Bay and Egg Harbor have also partnered with AT&T.

After Sevastopol’s experience, Nasewaupee decided in late September to reissue an RFP to learn if their partnership with Bertram was the best they could get. John Kolodziej, chair of Nasewaupee’s Broadband Committee, cited as reasons for redirecting were the deals both Sevastopol and the Town of Sturgeon Bay had received from AT&T. 

Baileys Harbor Switches ISP Partners

In June of 2022, the PSC awarded Baileys Harbor a $1.89 million grant for the town’s broadband project. The town was working with Nsight at the time, and formalized that partnership on Aug. 9, 2022. The town and Nsight have now mutually terminated that partnership.

In a press release jointly issued by the parties earlier this month, the cause of the termination was “a direct result of actions and inactions of third parties beyond the control of the town and Nsight,” which caused delays to the project “and increased the likelihood of significantly higher costs for the town.” 

Nsight gave a presentation to the town board in September, detailing the situation. The company recommended the town board consider revising the scope of the project, or terminate the agreement. The town board opted to terminate.

“Nsight has been open and transparent throughout the entire process, and this was a great learning experience about the unique challenges of bringing fiber to every home in our community,” said David Eliot, Baileys Harbor town board chair, and publisher/co-owner of the Peninsula Pulse, in a statement.

Baileys Harbor selected Bertram as its new ISP after the termination of its partnership with Nsight. Wisconsin-based Bertram purchased Door County Broadband in 2023.

Sarah Lawrenz, Bertram office administrator, said by email that Bertram would be able to use the PSC grant Baileys Harbor received in 2022.

“Bertram is in the process of transferring the grant over,” Lawrenz said.

Haley Adams, Baileys Harbor town clerk, said the town is excited to partner with a company that has the experience to connect 100% of the town’s addresses. 

“Bertram Communications has already surpassed our expectations by hitting the ground running, ensuring project completion by the end of 2024,” Adams said in a statement.

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