Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
Content tagged with "wisconsin"
Superior, Wisconsin officials have given the green light to the first pilot area for Superior’s new city-owned fiber network. Dubbed Connect Superior, the open access fiber network aims to deliver affordable gigabit access to every resident, community anchor institution and business in the city of nearly 27,000.
On July 5, the Superior City Council voted 8-1 to approve deployment in the project’s first pilot area: a swath of around 821 homes and businesses lodged between Tower Avenue, Belknap Street, and North 21st streets. The vote lets the city now begin issuing RFPs for network construction and negotiate with potential network tenants.
In 2020 the city passed a resolution declaring fiber essential infrastructure. In 2021, the city council voted overwhelmingly to move forward on a deployment master plan developed for the city by EntryPoint Networks. The initial $2.26 million cost of the pilot will be paid for with the help of $5 million from the city’s $17 million allocation from the American Rescue Plan Act funding.
A citywide deployment, should the city pursue it, is expected to cost somewhere around $31 million. The city remains hopeful that much of the cost can be offset by what it hopes will be a 40 percent take rate among local residents and businesses.
In Wisconsin, Republican state lawmakers voted earlier this month to kill Gov. Tony Evers’ plan to invest $750 million of Wisconsin tax dollars to expand high-speed Internet infrastructure across the Badger State.
Republicans on the state legislature’s budget committee voted to reject the proposed broadband funds, arguing that the state should wait for Wisconsin’s forthcoming share of the $42.5 billion in federal BEAD funds instead.
Although the state has a record budget surplus projected at more than $7 billion, it’s the first time in the past decade the GOP-controlled state legislature has not allocated funds to expand broadband, which drew a blunt rebuke from Evers spokesperson Britt Cudaback.
“It’s outrageous that Republicans have absolutely nothing to show for plans to actually address the pressing challenges facing our state — embarrassing doesn’t begin to cover it,” Cudaback told the Wisconsin State Journal.
The state is expecting to receive between $700 million and $1.1 billion in BEAD funds from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) with the state's Public Service Commission (PSC) estimating the total cost of deploying expanded broadband infrastructure statewide to be about $1.8 billion.
The U.S. Treasury Department announced this week the latest cohort of states approved to receive money for broadband infrastructure from the American Rescue Plan’s $10 billion Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund: Massachusetts, Michigan and Wisconsin.
“Together, these states will use their funding to connect more than 91,000 homes and businesses to affordable, high-speed Internet,” according to the Treasury’s press release.
Louisiana, New Hampshire, Virginia, and West Virginia were the first states approved to receive CPF funds in June; followed by Kansas, Maine, Maryland, and Minnesota in July; and Connecticut, Indiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Arkansas in August.
The latest tranche of CPF funds totals a little over $435 Million with Massachusetts approved for $145 million to fund new broadband infrastructure; $250.6 million for Michigan; and $40 million for Wisconsin.
A virtual press event was held on Thursday announcing the awards, led by Gene Sperling, Senior Advisor to the President and American Rescue Plan Coordinator; Jacob Leibenluft, U.S. Treasury Chief Recovery Officer; U.S. Sens. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan; Congressman Dan Kildee of Michigan; and Chairwoman of Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission Rebecca Cameron Valcq.
In Massachusetts, the funds will be used for the Commonwealth’s Broadband Infrastructure Gap Networks Grant Program. The state estimates that will be enough to connect 16,000 households and businesses, which represents 27 percent of locations in the state that lack high-speed Internet access.
Sen. Markey spoke to the importance of high-speed Internet connectivity and how it touches nearly every aspect of day-to-day life:
Pierce Pepin Electric Cooperative (PPEC), headquartered in Ellsworth, Wisconsin (pop. 3,300), announced in July of 2021 the start of a new phase of life, and the beginning of a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) project that will connect its 6,800 members by 2025.
The $32 million-dollar project was begun at the end of last year. The move, powered by financial commitment from the cooperative but also state grants so far, will roughly double the cooperative’s physical plant assets, and ensure that member-owners will get fast, locally accountable broadband access for the lifetime of the infrastructure.
Bringing Service to Areas Ignored by Others
Incorporated in 1937, today PPEC serves the majority of Pierce County and parts of Buffalo, Pepin, and St. Croix counties just across the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, along the Mississippi River.
It operates almost 1,350 miles of electric lines, about half of which are overhead and half underground, with 12 substations scattered throughout its territory. The cooperative serves an average of 5.7 households per mile. More than 90 percent of its member-owners live on residential properties or farms, though it has 600 commercial and industrial accounts and also powers more than three dozen public authority cites.
The move towards broadband for PPEC, as with so many other electric cooperatives around the country, has been driven by dual forces: an internal push by member owners, and the lack of any evidence that outside providers will expand new infrastructure to the area anytime soon.
Welcome to In Our View. From time to time, we use this space to explore new ideas and share our thoughts on recent events playing out across the digital landscape, as well as take the opportunity to draw attention to important but neglected broadband-related issues.
As federal funds to expand high-speed Internet access began to flow to states and local communities through the American Rescue Plan Act, and with billions more coming under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Big Telecom is beginning to mount its expected opposition campaign designed to discourage federal (and state) decision-makers from prioritizing the building of publicly-owned networks.
Predictably, a centerpiece of this anti-municipal broadband campaign is the trotting out of well-worn - and thoroughly debunked - talking points, arguing that federal funding rules should not “encourage states to favor entities like non-profits and municipalities when choosing grant winners” because of their “well-documented propensity to fail at building and maintaining complex networks over time.” That’s what USTelecom, a trade organization representing big private Internet Service Providers (including the monopolies) wrote in a memo sent last week to President Biden, the FCC, cabinet secretaries, House and Senate members, Tribal leaders, as well as state broadband offices.
With American Rescue Plan funds flowing into state government coffers, about a third of the nation’s 50 states have announced what portion of their Rescue Plan dollars are being devoted to expanding access to high-speed Internet connectivity.
The federal legislation included $350 billion for states to spend on water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure, though everything we have seen suggests that the vast majority of that will not go to broadband. There is also another $10 billion pot of rescue plan funds, called the Capital Projects Fund, that mostly must be used to expand access to broadband.
Laboratories of Broadband-ification
As expected, each state is taking their own approach. California is making a gigantic investment in middle-mile infrastructure and support for local Internet solutions while Maryland is making one of the biggest investments in municipal broadband of any other state in the nation. And although Colorado does not prioritize community-driven initiatives, state lawmakers there have earmarked $20 million for Colorado’s two federally-recognized Indian tribes to deploy broadband infrastructure with another $15 million devoted to boosting telehealth services in the state.
Undoubtedly, individual states’ funding priorities vary. Some states may be relying on previously allocated federal investments to boost broadband initiatives and/or have been persuaded the private sector alone will suffice in solving its connectivity challenges. And in some states, such as Illinois, Minnesota, and Maine, lawmakers have prioritized using state funds to support broadband expansion efforts while other states may be waiting on the infrastructure bill now making its way through Congress before making major broadband funding decisions.
As of this writing, 17 states have earmarked a portion of their Rescue Plan money (totaling about $7.6 billion) to address the digital divide within their borders. Those states are Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Missouri, Virginia, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Just a year after city leaders of Superior, Wisconsin (pop. 26,000) passed a resolution declaring fiber optic cabling critical infrastructure, officials are beginning to put the city’s money behind an action plan. In August, a majority of City Council members voted to adopt a plan to develop a city-owned fiber network and Superior Mayor Jim Paine proposed to reserve the bulk of the city’s American Rescue Plan federal relief funds to back the project.
The recent 8-2 City Council vote gave the green light to move forward with Connect Superior – a plan to construct open access, fiber optic broadband infrastructure reaching every resident, community anchor institution and business in the city.
As Mayor Paine plans to budget no less than $10 million of the city’s $17 million in Rescue Plan funds to finance the project, Superior’s legislative and executive officials are largely united
City Councilors’ adoption of the Master Plan is a significant step forward, even as there are still numerous motions the City Council will need to approve in order for municipal fiber to become a reality.
The next phase of the project involves designing and planning the network and hiring the contractors who will build it. City Council members will have to approve every contract with every consultant, design, and engineer firm along the way; as well as the Mayor’s American Rescue Plan budget in order to award the funds necessary to get the project rolling.
Residents and businesses in Drammen, Wisconsin are about to benefit from a combination of state grants and public financing to bring fiber connectivity which promises to cover the whole town over the next two years. Twin projects by neighboring telephone cooperatives will utilize a total of $1.9 million to expand into the town of about 800, located 10 miles southwest of Eau Claire, which has long struggled with adequate Internet service.
By Our Powers Combined
The work comes in part as the result of two funding streams. The first is $1.5 million from among the $28.4 million awarded to 58 projects around the state by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin via the latest round of awards from the Broadband Expansion Grant Program, in March 2021. 24-7 & West Wisconsin Telcom Cooperative received $710,000 to connect six businesses and 110 residences on the west side of town, while Tri-County Communications Cooperative received $740,000 to connect six businesses and 156 residences on the east side of town. All told, the two cooperatives will install 58 miles of fiber connecting 278 residents and businesses.
Drammen is playing a key role in driving the project along, successfully acquiring a low-interest $400,000 loan from the Wisconsin Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, which manages a state trust fund that supports, among an array of other activities, municipal infrastructure projects like these. The award, announced in April, will join the grants to facilitate the construction.
A Long, Local History
24-7 & West Wisconsin Telcom Cooperative was founded 65 years ago by local farmers trying to bring telecommunications to their areas. Today, it has connected communities in Chippewa, Dunn, Eau Claire, Pepin, Pierce and St. Croix counties.
Municipal networks in the United States have proven that when dollars are invested in publicly owned information infrastructure, they often return value back to the community several times over. This new fact sheet [pdf] highlights municipal broadband success stories from across the country and some of the many benefits the networks have brought to the communities they serve.
These networks are directly accountable to the community and have proved themselves for more than 20 years in some cases, bringing lower prices to households than the large private providers. Municipal networks and partnerships account for 9 of the top 10 fastest broadband networks in the nation.
For timely updates, follow Christopher Mitchell or MuniNetworks on Twitter and sign up to get the Community Broadband weekly update.
Michigan broadband package repeals law prohibiting state grants from going to government entities
Montana Legislature duplicates federal limitations against schools and library self-constructing networks
U.S. House Republicans bill would give USDA authority over rural broadband, in place of FCC
The State Scene
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive directive on Wednesday establishing the Michigan High-Speed Internet (MIHI) Office, a new state office tasked with developing a strategy to make high-speed Internet more accessible to Michiganders.
Gov. Whitmer has argued that more than $2.5 billion in potential economic benefit is left unrealized each year due to a lack of Internet access across the state. MIHI will be housed inside the state’s Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO). Speaking of the new office, LEO Acting Director Susan Corbin said, “We need to make major investments to support digital inclusion and this office will be focused on leveraging every dollar available through the American Recovery Plan and other federal programs,” reports WILX.
Michigan lawmakers are moving to answer Corbin’s call and recently proposed a $400 million one-time allocation of incoming federal relief funds to the newly created MIHI to work toward expanding access to broadband. With the funds, LEO would be tasked with maintaining a statewide broadband grant program, the Connecting Michigan Communities Broadband Grant.