Written by Noor Ali Hassan
For many of us, the internet plays an important role in our daily lives, whether it’s for leisure or employment purposes. Yet, we didn’t understand its critical importance until the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. Marathon County had been working diligently to facilitate the expansion of broadband access to all areas of the County long before many of us experienced telework or remote learning ourselves. However, projects of this magnitude require ample time, resources, and patience to do them right. As our efforts continue, we want to provide an update relative to our ongoing broadband efforts to keep you – the taxpayer – informed.
Between 2009 and 2018, the County relied on Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to expand their coverage footprint, commissioned two studies to assess the broadband landscape and formulate a plan, and created a Broadband Connectivity Task Force to address Internet access in rural communities.
In 2020, building on past efforts, the Marathon County Board of Supervisors formally created the Broadband Task Force to develop policies and partnership recommendations to ensure the development of broadband technology throughout the County. Under the recommendations set forth by the Broadband Task Force, Marathon County partnered with various Internet Service Providers in applying for the Wisconsin Public Service Commission’s (PSC) Broadband Expansion Grant. In total, Marathon County partnered with six ISPs on seven PSC grant applications in 2020-2021. Unfortunately, only two were awarded funding. An assessment of successful applications indicated that those with strong local partnerships and minimal overlap of coverage with other applications scored higher.
In July 2021, the County Board also adopted a resolution authorizing the submittal of a grant application, in partnership with Charter, to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). If approved, the $20 million project would provide internet service in eastern Marathon County. The application is still under review.
Last fall, Marathon County entered into an agreement with Bug Tussel and four other counties to provide conduit bonding for broadband expansion. The project covers 370 miles of fiber and 16 towers in Marathon County. Bug Tussel is set to begin construction of their middle-mile project in the eastern part of the County. Bug Tussel is also partnering with AT&T to expand cellular coverage.
In March, the Broadband Task Force and County Board coordinated with ISPs in submitting grant application to the Public Service Commission for Broadband Expansion Grants. The applications seek to minimize service area overlaps and the county reached out to town governments to receive matching funds to demonstrate strong local partnerships. With these criteria in mind, the County partnered with Cirrinity, Bug Tussel, and Frontier on three different applications for the March 2022 PSC grant cycle. The applications are currently under review and a decision will be made on funding in early summer.
As we continue to ramp up our efforts, we recognized the importance of having accurate data that identified where the unserved and underserved areas are located. As a result, Marathon County partnered with the North Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission and area economic development associations on a regional internet speed testing initiative. Current maps, such as the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) and the Public Service Commission’s broadband maps, are unreliable, making it difficult to accurately identify where the unserved and underserved areas are. This speed testing initiative will ensure Marathon County has meaningful and accurate data that can be utilized when applying to grants and various other funding sources.
All residents and businesses are encouraged to complete the free speed test. Here is a link to the test: https://www.ncwrpc.org/ncwrpc2021/broadband-speed-test/. For more information on our broadband efforts or questions on the speed test, please contact Noor Ali Hassan, Special Projects Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org or 715-261-1404.
Noor Ali Hassan
Special Projects Coordinator | Marathon County Administration
Noor Ali Hassan joined Marathon County Government as a Special Projects Coordinator in January 2022. As the Special Projects Coordinator, Noor has the unique opportunity to work on projects such as broadband expansion, the affordability and availability of childcare services, and other larger initiatives identified in the County’s Strategic Plan. Noor recently graduated with her master’s degree in Public Policy with a concentration in Healthcare Management and Policy. When not at work, Noor enjoys writing poetry, reading and traveling. Email Noor Ali Hassan.
You might also like…
- What’s Your Internet Speed? :: Marathon County Broadband Task Force Partners on Speed Testing Initiative to Help Illustrate Need for Broadband Expansion
- Marathon County’s Consultant Completes Broadband Assessment
- Guiding our Future by Enhancing High-Speed, Broadband Internet Access in Rural Marathon County
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