Broadband Grant and Dark Fiber Swap Equal a Win-Win for Janesville, Wisconsin

Janesville, Wisconsin (pop. 64,000) Information Technology Director Gordon LaChance has been investing in fiber infrastructure for city needs for the last 12 years, but he’s been hoping it would lead to something more. That day may have come, with the recent award of a $114,000 grant from Wisconsin Public Utility Commission.

The grant allows the city to participate in a public-private partnership that will bring fiber to a handful of unserved or underserved commercial locations in town. The move is the first of its kind for the city, and involves an exchange of capacity that will allow WIN Technologies — a private Internet Service Provider (ISP) — to bring service to two SHINE Medical Technology locations (a small headquarters downtown as well as a large, new development being built south of town), the Janesville Centennial Business Park, the Beloit Avenue Corridor Business Park, and the Janesville Innovation Center. 

The grant application was spearheaded by the city’s Economic Development Office, which gathered the players and helped iron out the details. LaChance described how the deal would work in a phone interview. The city will give WIN access to some of its dark fiber, which WIN will make use of along with the grant funds and additional private investment to build south and connect those areas of town. In return, WIN will lay extra fiber as it goes and hand it over the LaChance’s office, allowing the city plant to expand in that direction when it otherwise would not be able to justify the cost. It remains early, but the city estimates that around a dozen businesses will be connected with the expansion. Better connectivity will also spur the revitalization of the Janesville Assembly Plant, a General Motors factory decommissioned in 2008 that is being turned around by a commercial developer to bring manufcaturing production and jobs back to the area. 

The Fruits of Forethought

Part of the reason the project will work is because LaChance has over the last decade increasingly invested in higher fiber counts when embarking on builds of his own, allowing him to give WIN unlit capacity without compromising city services. Currently, Janesville’s institutional network connects 31 buildings with a mixture of 72- and 288-strand fiber, and includes partnerships with the University of Wisconsin, the public school district, and the county. It totals around 15 miles.

The deal allows the office of Information Technology to make progress on what it hopes will eventually be a fiber ring encircling the city. The partnership with WIN might also, LaChance related, open up opportunities in the future to connect city fiber in Janesville with the neighboring town of Milton (the municipalities already share a fire chief, and there’s talk of creating an area-wide network for fire prevention services) while also providing for WIN to connect with Blackhawk Technical College. LaChance’s office also has a short-term plan to complete a fiber ring for the city over the next two years.

Previously, the city public school district invested in its own fiber network and in the process cut costs by $70,000/year.