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Crawford County receives two broadband grants from PSC
Fiber optic to the premises
VCC broadband project map
THIS MAP SHOWS the location of the residences and businesses potentially served by the fiber-to-the premises project of Vernon Communications, heavily funded by Wisconsin Public Service Commission Broadband Access Grant, in the latest round of funding. Note: The Village of Ferryville and north up Highway 35 is not included in the grant. This area had a previous Wisconsin PSC Broadband Grant by CenturyLink that made that area ineligible.

CRAWFORD COUNTY - On Thursday, Oct. 14, the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin announced the recipients of Broadband Access Grants through funding made available by Governor Evers in May 2021. 

The PSC awarded $99,932,502 for 83 projects that will expand fiber broadband internet to more than 28,426 residential and 1,490 business locations currently unserved and underserved. The projects receiving awards are located in 40 counties and three tribal lands. The grant awardees will provide matching funds of $101,942,388. 

Two recipients of the PSC Broadband Access Grants were in Crawford County.

The larger of the two, located in the northwestern part of the county, was a proposed by Vernon Communications. This project will utilize a Fiber-to-the-Premise service to reach 52 businesses and 993 residential locations in the
towns of Freeman, Utica, and Seneca, and the villages of Mount Sterling and Lynxville in Crawford County. The project received a PSC Grant Award of $5,697,500 and utilized matching funds of $1,077,500.

Vernon Communications CEO Rod Olson indicated the co-operative is in conversation with the construction company, and the plan is to attempt to do the whole project next year.

“It’s a moonshot,” Olson readily acknowledged. “It’s a pretty lofty goal. It’s definitely a best-case scenario.

“It relies on the ability of the county to cash flow the project for which they will ultimately be reimbursed by the grant,” Olson said. “We have not had a conversation with the county at this point.”

The other project, located in the eastern part of the county, was proposed by the Richland-Grant Telephone Co-op. This project will utilize a Fiber-to-the-Premise service to reach one business and 393 residential locations in the towns of Clayton, Scott, and Haney in Crawford County. The project received a PSC award grant of $2,364,000 and will have $3,303,237 in matching funds.

Both projects are just a part of the larger statewide effort.

“Expanding reliable, high-speed internet access remains a top priority for our state and we continue to move quickly to get federal funding allocated so construction on these projects can begin as soon as possible,” said Governor Evers. “Since 2019, with state and federal dollars we’ve approved projects that will connect over 300,000 homes and businesses with access to new or improved broadband. We are making sure our communities bounce back better from the pandemic.” 

Earlier this year, Governor Evers declared 2021 as ‘The Year of Broadband,’ and allocated $129 million in state grant funding over the next two years for Broadband Expansion.

“The lack of broadband access in our state makes essential services and resources out of reach for many Wisconsinites, which made the pandemic nearly unmanageable,” said PSC Chairperson Rebecca Cameron Valcq. “I am grateful Governor Evers continues to provide state and federal resources for broadband access. These projects put Wisconsin one step closer towards closing the digital divide.”   

The grants are funded through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Applications were made available on June 1, 2021, and were due on July 27, 2021. The PSC received 242 applications requesting more than $440 million for projects that will be completed by December 31, 2024. Internet service providers, telecommunications utilities, cooperatives, local governments, and for-profit and non-profit organizations were eligible to apply. The PSC evaluated broadband projects based on applicant capacity, capability, performance, project budget, proposed matching funds and the proposed service area’s existing broadband service needs. 

Applicants not selected for ARPA funding are encouraged to apply for the State’s Broadband Expansion Grant Program; details about that grant program will be announced in coming weeks.

NOTE: Vernon Communications Cooperative Rod Olson will make an appearance at the meeting of the Crawford County Board Finance Committee on Wednesday, Nov. 3, starting at 9 a.m., to discuss the broadband grant for Crawford County, and the partnership with the county. The meeting will take place in Room 215 at the Crawford County Administration Building. According to Crawford County Clerk, Robin Fisher, "There will no longer be Zoom/remote access for the Finance meetings.The Crawford County Administration Building continues to remain open for the public to attend such meetings."