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Two Broadband Grants Awarded in Door County

Broadband projects for the Town of Jacksonport and the Washington Island Electric Cooperative were among 24 projects statewide to receive funds during the latest round of Public Service Commission (PSC) of Wisconsin grant awards. 

The PSC awards, announced in late May, totaled $16,601,085 among the 24 recipients. The PSC received 74 applications requesting $73.7 million through the state’s Broadband Expansion Grant program.

“It is the first time that we have had two broadband grants funded at the same time in the county, which is a big deal,” said Jessica Hatch, the County of Door’s broadband coordinator. 

The Town of Jacksonport, with internet service provider (ISP) partner Frontier, was awarded $500,000 and will provide a match of $2,714,576. The total project will deliver fiber to five businesses and 519 residential locations. 

The Washington Island Electric Cooperative (Co-op) received the highest grant award among all 24 grantees at $2.5 million. In conjunction with a match of $2,860,790, the grant will allow the Co-op to finish its broadband project and “also set us up with some redundancy with an additional submarine installation,” said Co-op manager Robert Cornell.

This final-phase grant award represented 18% of the total the PSC granted during this round.

“We told the [Co-op] members that it was almost a zero chance of winning because of the ask,” Cornell said, but he also said he believed they were successful because they had indicated it would finish their broadband project, enabling the PSC to “put one in the win column.”

The money and match will help the Co-op to connect the remaining 786 Co-op members, for a total of 1,100, Cornell said. The Co-op began connecting residents and businesses in October 2022. 

“Getting the money does not make the project easier, but it does make it likely to be completed earlier,” he said. “Now we just have to deal with supply chain and contractor scheduling and the countywide, universal problem of housing for those contractors.”

The Co-op has now received close to $3 million through three different grant awards, the current round included. The only other Door County entity to receive a broadband grant award, to date, is Baileys Harbor, through its ISP partner Nsight, for $1.89 million in 2022.

Three Door County Projects Not Funded

In this latest grant round, Frontier successfully obtained an award for Jacksonport, but its application on behalf of the Village of Egg Harbor was not successful. The village had sought $446,915 with ISP partner Frontier, with a $1.47 million match to serve 10 business and 530 residential addresses, according to the state’s grant-application report.

The two other local projects that were not funded during this grant round were the towns of Clay Banks and Sevastopol. Clay Banks had applied for $2.1 million through ISP partner Bertram Communications, with a $1.45 million match to connect seven business and 73 residential addresses. Sevastopol had applied for $1.5 million, through former ISP partner Bug Tussel, with a $1.5 million match to connect 20 business and 428 residential addresses. 

Hatch said Door County has an increasingly well-established relationship with the PSC because of the county’s broadband-forward practices, and she anticipates that future grant cycles will reward local projects that meet specific criteria. 

“I think the PSC has an eye on Door County,” she said, “and we will see fair awards throughout the county as long as the applications serve everyone and have competitive matching funds and strong public-private partnerships in place for that work.”

Broadband Update 

In the Municipal Outreach Summary report that Hatch presented to the county’s broadband committee on June 8, she outlined where Door County’s 19 municipalities are in their efforts to provide fiber to all the addresses within their communities.

In summary, seven municipalities have partnerships selected, and nine have RFPs issued. Those numbers were eight and eight until Sevastopol severed its partnership this week with Bug Tussel (see the related story).

Only one of Door County’s 19 municipalities – the City of Sturgeon Bay – is considered fully served, and only two of Door County’s 19 municipalities do not have a broadband ad hoc committee or are not engaged in discussions about broadband: the villages of Ephraim and Forestville.

To date, Cellcom’s Nsight, Bertram Communications (formerly Door County Broadband) and Frontier Communications have been selected by local municipalities, both officially and unofficially, to partner on fiber-to-the-home broadband projects. Baileys Harbor and Liberty Grove are working with Nsight, Clay Banks and Nasewaupee with Bertram, and the Village of Egg Harbor and Jacksonport with Frontier. 

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