POLK COUNTY -- Polk County has received good news about the future of broadband in the area.
The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) awarded two grants totaling $2,855,129 to the Lakeland Communications Group. These funds will be used for two projects in Polk County that will expand broadband internet access to 26 businesses and 906 residential locations in the towns of Johnstown, Alden, Farmington, and Osceola. The grant awards will leverage an equal amount of matching funds from Lakeland Communications, with contributions by three townships. It’s a great success for Lakeland, who is happy to see the enormous amount of time put into these applications pay off.
“There were 194 applications requesting more than $495 million to expand broadband throughout the state,” said Lakeland Communications Business Development Representative Alec Mortel. “Through a merit ranking process, 71 applications were selected for grant awards totaling just under $125 million.”
Four years ago, the Polk County Board of Supervisors made it a long-term priority to expand broadband access within the county. In 2018 and 2019, the Polk County Board of Supervisors passed Resolutions to facilitate the development and expansion of broadband internet services available to county residents and designated Polk County as a “Broadband Forward!” and “Telecommuter Forward!” community. These certifications identified Polk County as supportive of increased broadband access and committed to promoting telecommuting.
These actions on their own, however, did not demonstrate enough County buy-in by the PSC, which is the grantor of the valuable broadband grants.
“At the time, we didn’t have enough skin in the game,” said County Administrator Vince Netherland. “Our local service providers were submitting all these grant proposals and not always getting things back. It became apparent that these grants would be much more likely to be successful if more support from Polk County could be made part of those applications.”
Netherland worked with an industry expert, Cliff Albertson of Badger Communications, to create an up-to-date set of data regarding broadband accessibility and availability in Polk County and engaged with the local service providers to identify opportunities for the continued growth and expansion of broadband in the area.
Then, in February of this year, the Polk County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution appropriating $1,000,000 in American Rescue Plan funds to the expansion of broadband in Polk County. These funds were allocated for the use of matching grant funds for applications for broadband expansion submitted by local service providers to the State of Wisconsin.
For Lakeland, excitement and anticipation over bringing exceptional broadband to the residents and businesses could not be stronger.
“In anticipation of building this very deserving project area, Lakeland has been designing and preparing for over a year,” said Mortel. “Material lead times are at an all-time high with some components over 65 weeks, but we are well situated to begin construction in your area in the 2022 construction season. We expect to have services available for turn-up in portions of the project area by end of year 2023.”