Town-Funded Broadband Draws Mixed Reactions

More than 100 citizens were on hand in the Southern Door Community Auditorium the evening of March 13 for a public information meeting about the possibility of installing broadband infrastructure with fiber-optic cable to all addresses within the towns of Brussels, Union, Gardner and Fortestville. 

Residents of those towns heard from Jon Koch, a Gardner resident who chairs the Joint Broadband Ad Hoc Committee that has representatives of the four towns; Jessica Hatch, Door County Broadband coordinator; and Jason Rouer, the county’s information technology coordinator and a Town of Forestville committee member.

Koch, Hatch and Rouer also fielded questions from the audience, which included people who opposed and supported the project, in which Brightspeed would install the fiber to all residences and businesses throughout the four towns. 

Koch said broadband wouldn’t be something that is “nice to have,” but rather a “critical essential utility for all residents.”

Those who objected to the towns contributing funds to install broadband disagreed, saying Brightspeed should foot the cost because it will be the one that will profit from broadband, and property owners would be taxed to install the infrastructure even if they didn’t use the service.

Koch said it wouldn’t be financially feasible for a company to install broadband on its own throughout those towns, and Brightspeed presented the least expensive option with other companies coming in with prices more than 50% higher.

“It really came down to cost,” he said. 

Three of Four Towns Holding Referendums 

Referendum questions will be before voters April 2 in Brussels, Union and Gardner to ask if town residents favor borrowing money to install broadband. 

The Forestville Town Board elected not to go to a referendum based on resident support of the installation of broadband on a town-wide survey.

Earlier this year, the board passed a resolution in favor of borrowing up to $868,668 for installing fiber-optic broadband to town addresses, about 25% of the total project cost, according to the resolution.

Brightspeed will cover another 25%, with the remainder sought through a grant from the federal Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program.

On their referendums, Brussels, Gardner and Union will ask voters for the following: 

•Brussels to borrow up to $370,595 – 10% of the total cost, with Brightspeed contributing 25% and BEAD grant money sought to cover the remainder.

•Gardner to borrow up to $1,242,686 – 25% of the total cost, with Brightspeed contributing 25% and BEAD grant money sought for the remainder.

•Union to borrow up to $807,713 – 20% of the total cost, with Brightspeed contributing 25% and BEAD grant money sought for the remainder.

Public Support, Grant Money Needed to Proceed

In addition to voter support in the three towns holding referendums, it was also noted at the forum that the BEAD money would have to be awarded for any of the projects to proceed.

Koch, Hatch and Rouer pointed out that the project is designed so that it could proceed in either one, two, three or all four towns, depending on which ones receive the necessary public support and grant money. 

According to financial information presented at the forum, the towns’ share to install broadband could be financed with a 20-year loan from the Wisconsin Bureau of Commissioners of Public Lands, which now has an interest rate of 6% to borrow money.

Based on that level of borrowing, the total interest costs would amount to $275,608 in Brussels, $600,689 in Union, $924,175 in Gardner and $646,021 in Forestville.