County eyes plan to expand high speed internet

By Nick Wood
Acting Editor

A Green Bay-based broadband internet provider’s proposal to offer high-speed internet service to virtually every household in Brown County met with unanimous support from the county’s Administration Committee Aug. 25.

Committee Chair Sup. Richard Shadewald said the county has spent the last couple of years in various committees and subcommittees trying to find a company to take on the challenge of providing high-speed internet to the rural areas.

“This is the best proposal we’ve ever had,” Schadewald said. “We’ve been frustrated by the lack of anybody bidding. Everybody we talked to said you can’t do it. We won’t do it because it doesn’t meet that threshold of their profitable business model,” Schadewald said.

The proposal from Bug Tussel originally asked to use the county’s bonding authority to fund the nearly $29 million project.

But Schadewald suggested the county could save nearly $7 million in interest over the 30-year life of the bond by paying up front with county sales tax revenue.

Rural broadband is one of the specific things sales tax revenue can be used for.

Steve Schneider, who founded Bug Tussel in 2003, said the company focuses on installing fiber to provide high speed internet to rural areas.

To date, the company has partnered with 18 Wisconsin counties to provide coverage to rural areas.
Currently Brown County has about 54 miles of fiber in the ground that connects downtown with county owned facilities such as the jail and also services county 911 towers.

It currently has $10 million set aside for future expansion.

But, if approved by the county board, this proposal would effectively get the county out of the fiber business.

The biggest piece of the plan – about $19 million – would build out the county’s current fiber and add an additional 215 miles throughout the county to connect population centers, tower sites and other county-owned facilities such as 911 towers, the landfill and county parks.

The so-called middle mile route passes approximately 15,000 homes, about half of which are unserved or underserved according to county speed tests.

Along the route, a “last mile” component would cost around $5 million and provide direct fiber to homes and businesses along the route with speeds up to 10 Gbps.

Another $4 million would go to building out 14 towers and wireless sites along the route which would provide coverage to virtually every home in the county with internet speeds between 25-100 Mbps.

Schneider his company would guarantee the work would be completed in three years, but that’s a conservative estimate and he expects the whole project could be completed in 18 months.

County Board Chairman Patrick Buckley was in the audience and questioned what the county’s risk would be if Bug Tussel failed to execute.

Schneider said the agreement would include a first-lien on Bug Tussel’s current fiber assets which currently stand at about $150 million and are expected to double by the end of the year.

Schneider said costs to consumers for the 25 Mb service would average $59 per month and the 100 Mb service would be about $79 per month, with prices guaranteed for three years.

The committee unanimously agreed to direct the county’s lawyers to research how much outside legal help would be needed to craft an agreement.

That information would be presented to the full county board when it meets Sept. 21.

The committee hopes to schedule informational meetings ahead of the county board meeting.

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