Governor visits Brooks Farm Homestead
By Angie Landsverk
Waupaca Online is ready to use a state grant to expand into rural areas of Waupaca County.
The city’s wireless internet service provider is the recipient of a $32,815 Wisconsin Broadband Expansion Grant.
“Broadband allows you to do business anywhere in the world,” Gov. Scott Walker said Friday, Aug. 18 when he visited Brooks Farm Homestead.
He visited the farm just outside the city of Waupaca to present the grant award to Waupaca Online.
Josh Werner, Waupaca’s IT and community media director, applied for the grant.
He did so after Waupaca County staff asked Waupaca Online staff whether the utility is able and willing to expand its footprint and serve more areas in the county.
The county identified broadband access as a need in the county, particularly in rural areas.
“Many of us take for granted the Internet access we have,” Werner said Friday.
The city of Waupaca started Waupaca Online in 2001 after private providers would not expand service into the city’s Business and Technology Park.
Dial-up service was the only service located in the area at the time.
In addition to serving the park, Waupaca Online focused on serving rural areas outside of the city.
Its current coverage area includes the city and towns of Dayton, Farmington, Lind and Waupaca, with about 250 customers.
About two-thirds of those customers are located in areas where no other adequate internet service is available, according to Werner.
Ron Brooks, of Brooks Farm Homestead, said he has been with Waupaca Online since it came on line.
A few years later, he approached the provider and said he needed faster internet speed and offered space on one of his farm’s silos.
Ralph Schmal said Waupaca Online likes to team up with farmers.
Schmal is of All-Net Consulting in New London, which partners with Waupaca Online to provide technical management and network engineering services.
He said Brooks Farms is part of a circle in an area just outside the city.
“We have grown this one into what it is,” he said.
However, in other rural areas of the county, residents deal with slow, sluggish internet speeds, Werner said.
He said Waupaca Online started and continues to exist to go into areas others are not interested in serving.
With the approximately $33,000 state grant, the provider plans to expand into areas of the county, ranging from Marion to Fremont with a focus on central and eastern Waupaca County.
The grant will cover 45 percent of the project’s $72,756 cost.
Waupaca Online Reserves will also cover $32,815 of that cost, with user setup fees covering the remaining costs.
Werner says the project will begin this fall and be phased with completion anticipated in the summer of 2019.
The governor’s visit to Waupaca was one of several he made on what was Broadband Day in Wisconsin.
His other stops were Oneida County Economic Development Corp in Rhinelander, Hull Town Hall in Stevens Point and Centurylink in Baraboo.
The governor created the Broadband Expansion Grant Program in the 2013-15 biennial budget and tripled funding for grants in the 2015-17 biennial budget.
The grants provide reimbursement for equipment and construction expenses incurred by efforts to extend or improve broadband telecommunications services in underserved regions of Wisconsin.
Walker’s 2017-19 budget proposal invests an additional $34.5 million in total broadband expansion funding through Public Service Commission (PSC) Expansion Grants and the Technology for Educational Achievement (TEACH) program.
PSC Commissioner Mike Huebsch and State Broadband Director Angie Dickison joined the governor in presenting the grant awards.
Huebsch said the need for broadband expansion in Waupaca County stood out in Waupaca Online’s application.
Dickison encouraged communities interested in broadband expansion to contact her office.
“Let’s turn rural broadband into a success story,” she said.