Broadband is in West Central Wisconsin Thanks to Local Cooperatives and Communications Companies

Thursday, April 18, 2019

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Fast broadband speeds are available in West Central Wisconsin thanks to the investment made by local cooperatives and communications companies. Wisconsin Telcom, Mosaic Telecom, and Ntec are some of the cooperatives working to ensure that businesses, residents, students and telecommuters have the broadband speeds they need to succeed. Though broadband has gained in importance over the past decade, they have been investing in building out their networks since the 1980’s. Jim Kusilek from West Wisconsin Telcom noted that they began building fiber from their Elk Lake exchange to AT&T in Eau Claire in 1987 and have installed more than 1,100 miles of fiber since then. Scott Behn of Mosaic Telecom said, “We are all customer-based. If something our customers need is not being provided, we need to take a leadership role to make sure that our communities can be competitive and thrive in the future. Our cooperatives had to take the leading role.” This was echoed by Lori Myers of West Wisconsin Telcom when saying, “It’s our responsibility to transform our communities and pave the way for connections that matter.”

And pave the way they have. Local cooperatives have invested millions in building out fiber in the region. Cliff Albertson, EVP of Badger Communications Corporation said, “Rather than pay out dividends to shareholders, cooperatives reinvest every dime in serving their members and that means they can reinvest in fiber. Independents – cooperative or commercial, are dedicated to the community because they live here.”  That level of commitment is critical because building out fiber is so expensive. For example, Mosaic Telecom secured a $21-million loan package to help pay for a $30-million buildout in the Village of Ridgeland, Sand Creek and surrounding rural areas. Since 2006, West Wisconsin Telcom has invested millions of dollars to build out its Downsville, Eau Galle, Spring Lake, Elk Lake, and Rock Falls Cooperative serving areas. West Wisconsin Telcom’s subsidiary 24-7 Telcom has been able to secure 4 state broadband grants totaling over $400,000.00 to help with broadband expansion but is still contributing an additional $500,000 to bring fiber to 220 locations in Dunn County. This is a similar story shared across cooperatives and local communications companies. They build out broadband to help support and grow the community – not because it is easy or affordable.

Simultaneously, moving to fiber has been an important business decision. “On the tech side, our cooperatives have historically provided our services on copper lines. To continue to be viable and to provide new services, we migrated to fiber optic cable which has expanded capabilities that copper can’t provide. We currently bring fiber to the premise for all of our cooperative residential and business customers,” said Larry Johnson of Ntec. Now that they have done so, they need local residents and businesses to continue buying from the local providers. As Larry said, “The cost of putting in the new fiber facilities in our rural communities is our greatest obstacle. We continue to look at expanding our fiber footprints to other areas of surrounding counties, but the cost can be high and we cannot count on everyone in the area purchasing services from us once fiber is put in to make a return on our investment. In addition to installation grants, we would also like to see some possible recovery mechanisms by the government to help fund our rural projects after the fiber is installed to offset this risk.”  Scott Behn also stated, “Only 40-60% may purchase from us, making it harder to recover. We are building for future needs as well so if more people would buy local, that would give us more funds to reinvest in additional fiber.”

Momentum West and local economic development organizations are working to support these providers by helping them to secure grant funding whenever possible. We appreciate their efforts and their work in bringing fiber to the premise has been instrumental in making communities in West Central Wisconsin Telecommuter Forward! certified – a certification that will draw more telecommuters to our picturesque and affordable region.

The successful growing of West Central Wisconsin’s telecommuting workforce can be partially attributed to the efforts and investments made by these cooperatives and other local companies. As Lori Myers said, “Our focus is on being leaders and having the vision to support working from home, the internet of things, etc., so that our local communities can thrive.” With West Central Wisconsin having so much to offer, including gorgeous vistas, access to the Chippewa, Red Cedar & Hay rivers, miles of bike, snowmobile & walking/hiking trails, numerous outdoor activities, good schools, quality and affordable housing, and a safe community to raise a family – broadband is like the icing on the cake, making West Central Wisconsin the perfect place to work from home.

Momentum West and local cooperatives invite telecommuters to visit West Central Wisconsin and discover why this is an excellent place to live, work and raise a family.

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