What’s happening to connect your community
Communities up and down the peninsula are progressing with plans to provide reliable, affordable, accessible high-speed internet to their residents and businesses.
The push began following the late-2021 passage of the $1 trillion federal infrastructure plan that guaranteed $42.45 billion in funding to improve broadband access for rural areas, low-income families and tribal communities.
That’s in addition to the hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants that other state and federal agencies are also distributing to deliver broadband access to all Americans. The Wisconsin Public Service Commission (WPS) awarded $124,967,392 in broadband grants in 2022 – up from the $28,431,738 the agency awarded in 2021 – and there’s a lot more coming in 2023. Wisconsin’s share of the federal allocation will be between $700 million and $1.1 billion.
With all that money floating around and a new County of Door broadband coordinator hired in 2022 to help the peninsula’s municipalities negotiate the planning process, nearly every community is in some stage of broadband planning or development.
Below is a rundown on some of the latest. To get more information, updates and resources, go to the county’s broadband website at fibernetdoorcounty.org.
And don’t forget to take the Wiser Wisconsin Internet Self-Report survey from the Wisconsin Broadband Office to help ensure that Door County is accurately represented on the federal maps that will determine grant allocations. Access the survey at maps.psc.wi.gov/apps/WISER/index.html.
The Town of Washington began connecting residents and businesses in October with fiber-optic cable. The Washington Island Electric Cooperative owns the network and is also the internet service provider (ISP). The internet fee will be an addition to residential and commercial electric bills and is expected to be $59.95 per month for upload/download speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps), and $89.95 per month for upload/download speeds of 1 billion bits (one gigabyte) per second.
“These are not ‘teaser’ rates and should remain stable so long as our operating costs remain stable,” said Robert Cornell, manager at the Washington Island Electric Cooperative. “If, in the future, we are put in a position to increase rates, we would aim to increase speeds as well.”
The federal definition of “broadband” is currently 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload – speeds that even the Federal Communications Commission has said no longer serve the needs of internet users.
“When we’re done, Washington Island will go from having the worst internet service in Door County to having the newest, best and fastest network in all of northeastern Wisconsin,” said Nathan Drager, owner of Sturgeon Bay–based Quantum Technologies, which began connecting Island residents and businesses with the fiber connections late last year.
The installation of Washington Island’s fiber network will be a five-phase project that will end in 2027. As the network is built out, fiber cable will run along the island’s roads, either underground or across power poles, to connect every home and business.
“In each subsequent phase, we’ll be connecting around 225 houses a year or more,” Drager said.
The 23,000-foot submarine cable that ran from the mainland under Death’s Door to power Washington Island failed in June 2018 due to years of accumulated damage from ice shoves. Disaster aid covered half the cost of the installation of a new, $4 million, five-mile-long submarine cable that had a fiber-optic line. The remainder was funded by WPS grants and large investments from the co-op and Cellcom, the company that brought the fiber connection to Washington Island.
Courtesy of its 80- to 100-foot bluffs and heavily wooded land, this Southern Door town on the Lake Michigan side battles serious communications problems.
“It’s not only broadband,” said Myron “Mike” Johnson, town board chair. “We have areas with no emergency communications. We have no cell phone coverage.”
Not surprisingly then, the town was one of the first to mobilize around broadband, forming a committee in January 2022. Since then, the town has confirmed through a survey that there is overwhelming support for broadband within the town, in addition to identifying the extent of the challenges residents have when trying to connect.
“It was an eye-opener what people are spending right now to try and get good service,” Johnson said.
The town selected Bertram Communications as its ISP partner and is moving forward with planning and identifying funding options.
Baileys Harbor has selected Nsight as its ISP, has secured a $1.89 million grant from WPS and is currently conducting an engineering study that will provide hard costs to deliver fiber to every residence and business.
Now the Town of Baileys Harbor Broadband Ad Hoc Committee is holding a series of community workshops to help residents learn about the broadband project and how it can benefit them. Each workshop will be held from 9 to 10 am at the Baileys Harbor Town Hall, 2392 Cty F, as follows: Jan. 25, project overview; Feb. 1, streaming TV shows and movies, and making calls on the internet; Feb. 8, telehealth and library resources; Feb. 15, the installation process and keeping safe online; Feb. 22, making internet access affordable; and March 1, financial and governmental services.
Sevastopol issued a Request for Proposals to ISP providers in October 2022, with the town’s Communications/Technology Committee analyzing and scoring each of the proposals received in preparation for an ISP partnership recommendation.
Now the town has scheduled a public meeting for Jan. 23, 6 pm, at the town hall in Institute, 4528 Hwy 57, to update residents on its broadband-expansion project plans. The hearing will provide information and allow time for public comments, concerns and questions regarding the town’s efforts to expand broadband to the entire municipality. Depending on the number of people who wish to speak, stricter guidelines such as time limits may be implemented.
Liberty Grove has long been working with its selected ISP provider, Nsight, and continues to move forward with connecting Northport-area properties to fiber as part of the pilot project for townwide fiber-optic availability. Upload and download internet speeds are hitting near 300 Mbps per second as projected, according to Liberty Grove town chair John Lowry.
The pilot project is in conjunction with the project on Washington Island, with the town receiving the internet feed on a backhaul from the island. The Northport project is scheduled to be completed in 2023.
Meanwhile, Farr Technologies will provide Liberty Grove with an engineering design plan for town-wide fiber optic. The town anticipates the plan will be done in 2023, at which point the project will be sent out for bids.
Nasewaupee selected Bertram Communications as its ISP partner for developing grant applications and cost estimates. The town’s goal is to apply for loans and grants to assist with funding the estimated project cost of $9,995,000 to connect all addresses with fiber. Of that, Bertram would contribute $2,295,000, leaving the town’s share at $7.7 million.
The Nasewaupee Broadband Committee’s current focus is to pursue a loan offered by the USDA Reconnect program at 2% interest for the full amount of the project cost while continuing to pursue grant programs to reduce the town’s cost.
Jacksonport’s Ad Hoc Technology Committee has been meeting nearly every week since February 2022. The town is the only one so far to deviate from choosing either Nsight or Bertram Communications as its ISP by selecting Frontier Communications because that company has existing infrastructure throughout the town in the form of DSL wire. Frontier’s strategy is to replace all of that with fiber.
The town’s electors voted during a special meeting in October 2022 to allow the board to approve providing high-speed internet to every address in Jacksonport with financing of up to $1.75 million. The town continues to plan and work with its ISP on grant preparation.
Brussels, Forestville, Gardner and Union
The towns of Brussels, Union and Gardner had formed a joint committee on broadband and then, during a Jan. 9 joint committee meeting, voted unanimously to allow the Town of Forestville to join the coalition.
“They are now four municipalities working together jointly to find an ISP to partner with to build out infrastructure,” said Jessica Hatch, Door County broadband coordinator.
Towns of Egg Harbor, Gibraltar and Sturgeon Bay
All three towns are some of the most recent to form a broadband committee and are in various stages of reviewing ISPs and grant opportunities.
Village of Egg Harbor
The Village of Egg Harbor is working toward issuing a Request for Proposal to ISPs. The objective is to start construction this year in conjunction with the downtown-corridor construction that is already planned for the village.