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Gov. Walker visits Rhinelander to highlight Northwoods portion of $1.5 million in broadband grantsSubmitted: 08/18/2017
Lane Kimble
Lane Kimble
Assistant News Director
lkimble@wjfw.com

Gov. Walker visits Rhinelander to highlight Northwoods portion of $1.5 million in broadband grants
RHINELANDER -
Editor's note: an earlier version of this story inaccurately credited the Vilas County Economic Development Corporation with securing grant funding for internet projects in Land O' Lakes and Conover.  That money was secured through grant applications from ChoiceTEL.  Newswatch 12 regrets the error.

Paul Osterman can't rest for too long on a congratulations from Governor Scott Walker.

"It's a busy time, absolutely," Osterman said.  "Now the real work begins."

The Northwoods Connect CEO joined Walker at the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport on Friday morning to celebrate about $110,000 for new broadband towers in Oneida and Florence Counties.

"We're growing pretty rapidly, which is exciting and hard at times too," Osterman said.


Osterman's share is part of $1.5 million in broadband grants the governor and Public Service Commission doled out this summer.

"We want to have access in every part of the state of Wisconsin so that every citizen and every small business has access to high speed internet connections," Walker said.

Companies can use the money to build internet towers and lay important high speed wiring.

"Why I like it, even as a guy that doesn't like spending a lot of government money is it's one time," Walker said. "Once we're in, we lay that network down, then the cost to provide service is manageable."

The grant funding was a competitive process. The state received 53 applications totaling $7.4 million in requests. Northwoods counties pulled in about 15 percent of the total money awarded.

"These communities are shining examples of public/private partnerships and those local voices working together," Wisconsin State Broadband Director Angie Dickison said.

Partnerships have led to much-needed service in places like Land O' Lakes.  Eagle River-based ChoiceTEL teamed up with the town to secure more than $200,000 over two years for a fiber-optic project in the northern Vilas County community.  There is an additional project in Conover, where there are many seasonal homes in both communities.

"If you can get these people to stay here instead of two weeks, if you can get them here for three or four months, it's just a huge boon to the economy," Vilas County Economic Development Corporation Exec. Director Bob Egan said.

The broadband money should help the Northwoods adapt its economy from a place largely reliant on tourism to one where business can still get done.

"Be disconnected, that was actually part of advertising for tourism in the area [in the past,] Rep. Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander) said. "You can't do that anymore. People want to come up here and be connected."

Thanks to this state funding, that's finally a reality in rural reaches of the Northwoods, where companies like Northwoods Connect don't plan to rest.  Osterman plans to build towers near Long Lake and several other places in Florence County.  The Oneida County tower locations have not been decided yet, but a new tower in the town of Crescent will likely be up before the end of summer.

"Not only grow, but help the residents have affordable broadband service," Osterman said.

There is an additional $11 million dollars in broadband grants packed into each year of the next state budget. Governor Walker said Friday he expects the budget to pass "before the end of summer", naming Sep. 22 as the official start of fall.


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