CRAWFORD COUNTY - During an informational meeting on Thursday, Nov. 5, Bug Tussel CEO Steve Schneider announced the cellphone tower company was withdrawing a proposal to partner with Crawford County on a broadband internet grant application to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.
The latest Bug Tussel proposal is a scaled-down version of a previous proposal. The original project called for a countywide system involving erecting 16 new cell phone towers, which could in turn provide wireless internet to local residents.
The latest proposal was to erect five or six towers in the Wauzeka-Steuben area to provide broadband internet access to local residents–including students studying from home during the pandemic.
Earlier in the meeting, when Schneider indicated that Bug Tussel is not doing the project with the county, but with the Wauzeka-Steuben School District, County Board member Don Stirling noted that that’s not how the resolution reads.
Just boiler plate
“The resolution is just boiler plate. It can be written as needed,” Bug Tussel’s general counsel Jason Wiedt said. “We just need an indication of support that the county will work with us in good faith on zoning and permitting issues.”
The matter was put on the agenda of the Crawford County Board Meeting for November 10, following a county board finance committee meeting held October 28.
A review of a resolution that would authorize the grant partnership and confirmation from several board members indicated the resolution was taken from a Bug Tussel template without local input. The resolution as written makes references to two county committees that don’t exist, and to work they supposedly did that has not been done.
There is no Crawford County Broadband Study Committee and also no Crawford County Board Executive Committee.
On Friday, Oct. 30, an informational meeting of the county board on the Bug Tussel resolution was scheduled for Thursday Nov. 5.
It was during this meeting that Bug Tussel CEO Steve Schneider abruptly announced Bug Tussel was withdrawing from seeking the partnership with the county to apply for a broadband grant.
The CEO explained negative reaction from some members of the public, as well as coverage in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout, dissuaded him from wanting to go forward with seeking the broadband grant partnership with the county.
However, Schneider added that Bug Tussel would still seek to work with Wauzeka-Steuben School District to do the project.
During the informational meeting, Schneider confirmed the broadband speed being offered was 25 mega-bites-per-second (mbps) down and five mbps up. However, he said the price per month would be $50 per month. That price was dictated by the PSC grant, according to Schneider.
Speeds and prices
Previously, Bug Tussel had advertising, which said that the speed of 25 mbps down and 5 mbps up would be offered during the 2020-21 school year at the 30-percent discounted price of $72 per month. This meant the regular price with equipment rental was well over $100 per month.
How long the $50 per month price would last was not discussed at the meeting.
Schneider said in answer to a question that Bug Tussel would offer a business package with 100 mbps down and 20 mbps up for $200 per month with a contract.
By comparison, Richland Grant Telephone Co-op customers in Crawford County are served by fiber optic cable, and pay just $93 per month for 200 mbps down and 100 mbps up-that's less than half the price of the Bug Tussel package at twice the speed for downloads and five times the speed for uploads.
Cellphone tower wireless service for broadband internet has some problems–like elevations, foliage, storms and amount of usage. Schneider acknowledged some of these problems and said they could be addressed. For instance, he noted the elevation problem could be solved by the use of television antennas.
Crawford County Board Supervisor Don Stirling, participating in the program remotely, informed Schneider that there were ridges 250-feet tall in the county, and use of a television antenna would be difficult.
In the dark
Stirling said early in the meeting that he had never been supplied with any information on the Bug Tussel company nor either of two projects.
“I’ve received more comments from constituents about the Bug Tussel plan that on any other topic since I was elected to the county board,” Stirling said. “I feel like I’m in the dark about this, and I don’t know why I’m in the dark.”
Wauzeka-Steuben School Board member Tom Martin spoke passionately in favor of the plan.
“We’ve been looking for the last ten years for a provider for broadband internet,” Martin said. “Unlike Centurylink or CCC Co-op, these people have reality.”
When Schneider announced he was withdrawing the offer to partner with the county, he emphasized he did not want to be under attack from the local newspaper and others.
At one point earlier in the meeting, Schneider claimed he had been “eaten alive in the local newspaper.”
After Schneider’s announcement that Bug Tussel was withdrawing from the partnership in the application for PSC broadband grants, Crawford County Board Chair Tom Cornford asked him to reconsider the matter.
“I don’t want to see you withdraw,” Cornford said to Schneider. “Can you at least wait until the county board meeting?”
Create study committee
Schneider declined the invitation to reconsider his withdrawal from the partnered-application for the PSC broadband grant. The CEO advised the county to create a Broadband Study Committee.
“I’d like the county board to create their own strategy before deciding on a provider to provide the service,” Schneider said. “Decide what you need and if we can meet that need, we’ll be back at the table.”
County Board Supervisor Don Stirling agreed with Schneider’s advice to the board.“I think you’re right. The county board needs to create our own strategy,” Stirling said. “First we need to decide what we want. Then, we have to make an RFP (Request For Proposals). And finally, we have to evaluate the proposals.”