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Design for Superior's fiber optic network progresses

The vendor in charge of designing the citywide network said work is 50% complete. In other broadband news, Douglas County was among four northern Wisconsin counties that did not receive grants to expand broadband service.

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Close up of hands typing on laptop. Night work concept.
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SUPERIOR — The design phase of the plan to build a citywide fiber optic network is 50% complete, John Honker with Magellan LLC told the city's communications and information technology committee during its Monday, June 27, meeting.

The city council in March tapped Magellan LLC to verify the feasibility of the Connect Superior project; do the high-level design; develop a business plan; acquire customers for the network; and seek internet service providers and grants to help pay for the project. Honker said the design phase is expected to be completed by August. Work continues on the business and implementation plan, which is 20% complete, he said.

The city is ahead of the game from Honker’s perspective.

“You guys have done a great job through the planning phases of getting the foundation built strong, and that’s really important because the leadership team sort of around the table is what’s going to help drive this project and make it successful for the city,” he said.

The next steps include seeking grants to help fund the project, Honker said, as well as developing a long-term financial plan and sales.

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“We’re seeing just massive money pouring into broadband from different sources, and we’re going to help you develop a funding strategy for that, ” Honker told the committee.

The plan is to stack grants, supporting new grants with ones that have already been secured, he said.

“Our goal is to define, you know bring as much money in to help defray any debt service costs, because that’s going to give you a lot more flexibility in how you price the service,” Honker said.

The city has already earmarked $5 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds for the project. Honker mentioned possible state and federal sources of grant funding, including the Public Service Commission's Wisconsin Broadband Office.

Expectation building is an important piece of the plan, as well as marketing strategies to engage the community and get people to sign up for internet service through the city. Citizens want to see results, Honker said, but building a network takes time.

“We want to start cultivating support,” Honker said.

In other business, the committee was informed that the city will be moving to a new server, Microsoft Office 365. The current exchange server is “going the way of the dodo,” according to information technology director Dan Shea. Microsoft will no longer be supporting the aging platform with new features, bug fixes, security fixes and the like. The change will give users the ability to use the product on up to five devices without needing a separate license for each, Shea said. There is an additional cost for the new server, but he said it will be absorbed into the department’s budget.

2022 state broadband grants skip northern Wisconsin

Days before the city discussed its broadband plans, three proposed internet expansion projects in Douglas County were overlooked for funding through the state’s Broadband Expansion Grant Program . Earlier this month, the amount of money available for the grants was bumped to $125 million by the Public Service Commission in the face of record demand.

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Local projects seeking funding through the program would have expanded internet access to roughly 109 businesses and nearly 4,000 residential locations in Gordon, Solon Springs, Bennett, Hawthorne, South Range, the town of Superior, Wentworth and the village of Poplar. None of them received funding.

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A map provided by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin shows projects that received funding in 2022 through the Broadband Expansion Grant Program.
Contributed / Public Service Commission of Wisconsin

A PSC map of projects that received grants in 2022 revealed that none of the four northernmost counties in the state — Douglas, Bayfield, Ashland and Iron — received grants this round, despite the expanded funding.

The state has been offering broadband expansion program grants since 2014. Of the 434 grants that have been awarded, only three Douglas County projects have been funded. A broadband expansion project in the Solon Springs and Gordon area received a grant of nearly $327,000 in 2021 and projects in the towns of Cloverland and Amnicon were awarded grants in 2020, according to the PSC.

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Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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