The city of Waupaca’s high-speed, wireless Internet service is one of seven providers in the state set to receive grant dollars for expansion in 2015.
Waupaca Online, the city’s Internet service, is receiving a $12,369 Broadband Expansion Grant from the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.
“In the coming year, they are giving out grants to expand broadband in the underserved and rural areas,” said Josh Werner, the city’s IT/communications specialist.
In fiscal 2015, the PSC is giving out a total of $452,579 in grants.
Werner said the commission is awarding a total of $4.3 million in grants over a 10-year period, with maximum awards of up to $500,000 annually.
The city applied for the grant twice.
The first time was last March, when it sought more than $100,000 in grant dollars.
“We put together the ultimate project,” Werner said.
Waupaca Online did not receive a grant for fiscal 2014.
The deadline for next year’s round of grants was October.
This time, Werner put together a project that totals about $24,500 and includes a 50 percent match from Waupaca Online.
Waupaca Online will use the grant dollars to “redo the infrastructure,” said Ralph Schmal, who is the network engineer for the city’s service.
He said Waupaca Online has 19 points of presence (POPs) to serve various areas.
“We will be increasing the speed from our central location at City Hall to our POPs,” Schmal said.
Werner said, “We’re moving to the latest and greatest technology to increase the speed dramatically.”
Schmal said updating the infrastructure means Waupaca Online will be able to handle the speed customers need, whether it is for streaming video and for voice over IP.
Werner said the city has up to two years to complete the project with the grant dollars and will likely finish it within 18 months.
The city already ordered the first round of equipment it needs for the project and planned to start updating the City Hall location this week.
One of the Waupaca Online’s highly used POPs was upgraded last June as a test and to also solve a problem, Schmal said.
Werner said the project will help get better signals to potential customers.
“That is the expansion part of it,” he said.
Right now, they can give the average Waupaca Online customer 4 to 5 Mbp.
“With this, it’ll be between 8 and 10-plus,” Schmal said.
Werner said they are also close to completing the first round of an upgrade to the system.
“This grant will allow us to have the resources to do everything we couldn’t do on the first round,” he said.
Technology is always changing, and the city is trying to stay up-to-date as best as it can, said Schmal.
“In late October, early November, after the first round of upgrades were 90 percent complete, we increased our base speeds,” he said. “People before were paying for 1 1/2 or 3. What we did for free was increased 1 1/2 to 2 and 3 to 4. Now, with the new technology, we will be able to go to 8-plus.”
Also changing is the pricing structure.
“Instead of doing a tiered pricing, we decided to let customers choose what they want,” Werner said. “We can work with them to get them what they need for what they do.”
That new pricing structure will go into effect on Jan. 1.
“I don’t think there’s a lot of places doing it this way,” he said.
Other plans for the future include expanding free Wi-Fi in the community.
The city’s free Wi-Fi currently covers downtown, including Rotary Riverview Park, as well as upper South Park and the beach.
“We will be adding Swan Park, Lakemen Field and adding more access to downtown,” Werner said. “The two things I’ve noticed are a lot of people hovering around this (City Hall) building and the rec center on weekends.”
That is part of the reason why the city added free Wi-Fi.
“It’s a nice amenity to offer at our parks,” Werner said. “These access points are fairly inexpensive to deploy. During the busy months of the summer, we were averaging 80 to 90 GB of data every month. That means people are really using it.”
Schmal said 5 gigabytes of data equals about one standard movie on Netflix.