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Lincoln Co. hopes to put aside frustration, see rural broadband project completedSubmitted: 05/24/2018
Ben Meyer
Ben Meyer
Managing Editor / Senior Reporter
bmeyer@wjfw.com

Lincoln Co. hopes to put aside frustration, see rural broadband project completed
MERRILL - Three years ago, Lincoln County got good news.

The federal government planned to spend $1.5 million to help give rural parts of the county broadband internet access. It was part of Frontier Communications' agreement to accept $283 million for broadband expansion nationwide.

But then, the contractors, equipment, and better internet were slow to arrive.

Now, Frontier is finally at work, but plenty of people are still waiting anxiously for their high-speed connection.


Jeremy Ratliff is one of the people waiting for a better connection. He lives in the rural town of Pine River.

"We do have internet service, if you want to call it that," Ratliff said. "It's almost like 20 years ago having dial-up speed. We deal with it, because it's the only internet option out there."

In addition to his day job, Ratliff serves on the Lincoln County Board and the Merrill School Board. He was excited when, in 2015, Frontier took the federal money as part of the Connect America Fund II initiative. But he was among the people in Lincoln County soon confused and frustrated.

"[In 2016, Frontier] made a promise to the county board that they were going to have plows in the ground by the following spring. That didn't happen," Ratliff said. "Leaving the county and the county board to basically scratch their heads like, 'Okay, what's going on? What's next?'"

"We decided at that time [Frontier's plan] seemed like a good deal," said Hans Breitenmoser Jr., a longtime member of the county board. "Now, of course, we're waiting for things to get done."

Frontier wouldn't even return calls or emails from the county last year, according to Randy Scholz, the administrative coordinator for Lincoln County at the time.

Finally, this spring, Ratliff noticed broadband crews on roads near Merrill. Frontier told him it actually completed work in the Tomahawk area last year and planned to connect 2,400 more rural customers this year.

Now, Ratliff is trying to be confident it will actually happen.

"We can hope that they are going to follow through on this. They say they're going to do it," he said. "It looks like work is being done."

Frontier has until the end of 2020 to complete its broadband expansion plan in Lincoln County. It got federal money to do work in 46 different Wisconsin counties.

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