Jacksonport Bringing a Broadband Plan to Electors

Municipalities across Door County are marching one by one along the route that will connect all residents and businesses within their communities to reliable, high-speed broadband service.

Washington Island, the furthest along, has already begun connecting its residents and businesses to fiber-optic internet service. Baileys Harbor has selected internet service provider (ISP) Nsight, has secured a $1.89 million grant from the Wisconsin Public Service Commission and is currently conducting an engineering study that will deliver hard costs. Both the towns of Nasewaupee and Liberty Grove have also selected ISP partners – the former Bertram Communications, which purchased Door County Broadband in April; and the latter Nsight, the parent company of Cellcom.

Now the Town of Jacksonport has selected Frontier Communications as its ISP partner and will ask town electors whether it should finance up to $1.75 million to deliver high-speed internet to every address within the town. A town elector is anyone who lives within the town who is eligible to vote.

The meeting set for Tuesday, Oct. 18, 7 pm, follows weekly meetings held by the town’s Ad Hoc Technology Committee since late February. During that time, the committee has surveyed town residents and businesses about existing service and interviewed four possible ISPs: Frontier Communications, Charter Communications, Bertram Communications and Nsight.

Rob Edmundson, who chairs Jacksonport’s technology committee, said the committee selected Frontier because the company has existing infrastructure throughout the town in the form of DSL wire. The company’s strategy is to replace it all with fiber.

“Their costs, because of the existing infrastructure, were significantly less,” he said. “Their willingness to invest in this project was also significant. They are going to pay for half the total cost of this implementation.”

With the company’s match, the $3.5 million project would deliver fiber to every residence and business in the town, for a total 952 addresses.

“We will put a drop at every driveway,” Edmundson said. “If they choose to hook it up, it will be a free installation to their home. Whether they want it or not, we’ll have a drop at every home and business.”

They’re also promising subscription rates of $50 per month the first year, and $65 per month after that, for speeds that will be 500 megabits per second (mps) on both the download and upload. The current Federal Communications Commission (FCC) definition of “broadband” is 25/3 mps download, 3 mps upload, though the FCC has proposed new standards of 100/25.

“We’re getting extremely high-speed internet and reasonable costs for a lot less than what Jacksonport residents are paying for now,” Edmundson said. 

Respondents to a broadband survey that the town conducted earlier this year showed that residents and businesses receive service from 13 different internet companies and pay $75-$100 on average for their service.

Town board chair Tom Wilson said the financial tax impact of borrowing $1.75 million has yet to be calculated. They do plan to write grants to defray the costs and also have $100,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding. The first step is conveying the plan to the public to learn whether electors want them to proceed. 

“I believe we have strong community support,” Wilson said.

That belief was developed from the broadband survey. 

“Ninety-six percent of those who responded [to the survey] said they need a new, improved internet solution,” Edmundson said.

Before interviewing the four ISPs, the committee had put together a list of requirements for selection criteria. That document is now serving other Door County communities through the network of shared information created by Door County broadband coordinator Jessica Hatch. 

“We put this thing together; I sent it to Jessica; and she’s giving it to everybody, which is good, so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Edmundson said. “It’s all really collaborative.”

Norwalk, Connecticut–based Frontier, which has telecommunications assets throughout Door County, filed for bankruptcy in April 2020 with a plan to cut more than $10 billion of its $17 billion debt load by handing ownership to bondholders, according to Bloomberg.

Edmundson said the company’s solvency was foremost among the questions the committee asked, and it was satisfied with the company’s answers.

“They’ve restructured, have a new management team and have developed a new strategy: fiber,” Edmundson said. “They are well positioned to deliver fiber.”

The company plans to have 10 million fiber customers by end-of-year 2025.

Editor’s Note: This story has been modified from the original to reflect Frontier’s goal of 10 million fiber customers, not 25 million as the Town of Jacksonport had originally conveyed.