Cooperatives Cooperating For Better Wisconsin Connectivity

Chippewa Valley Electric Cooperative (CVEC) and local communications cooperative Citizens Connected are joining forces to improve Internet access in rural northern Wisconsin.

Collaborating For Connectivity

The two cooperatives recently announced that they will invest in fiber infrastructure to connect residents, businesses, and schools through a new entity called Ntera. Construction will start in Holcombe, population around 300, because it’s one of the communities with the worst Internet access within the CVEC service area. Construction in Holcombe should begin this fall.

Ntera will offer 1 Gigabit per second (1,000 Mbps) connectivity to premises in addition to voice and video. Rates have yet to be determined. CVEC’s service area includes approximately 7,500 premises within five counties. Citizens Connected has already invested in fiber infrastructure passing more than 3,200 premises.

Holcombe is a census-designated place in the town of Lake Holcombe, where the population is a little more than 1,000. Even though they’d like to, Lake Holcombe schoolteachers don’t offer devices to students because so many of them don’t have Internet access at home. Superintendent Jeff Matin says that more than half of the students don’t have Internet access because it isn’t available in their home or just too expensive.

The Lake Holcombe schools will use $80,000 in E-rate funding and state grants to connect to existing fiber in the community that will be incorporated into the larger network. Although the school district is obtaining funding to connect, the cooperatives are funding the network investment themselves. They have not yet released a final estimate for the cost of the project. School officials look forward to the educational opportunities the new fiber will bring:

Mastin is eager to have the improved broadband in the Holcombe area. Right now, there is Internet in the school building only.

“We’ll be able to have our community having easier access to the Internet,” Mastin said. “We could give (students) more devices to allow them to connect to it. It’s definitely needed for education in the 21st century.”

Cooperatives Connecting Country Regions

In December of 1936, organizers of CVEC signed its Articles of Organization, and by March 1938, the first 112 members of the cooperative obtained power in rural Wisconsin. Citizens Connected is an alternate business name for Citizens Telephone Cooperative, headquartered in New Auburn. The cooperative has been serving the region for 65 years, including providing dial-up Internet access when there was no other option.

Electric, telephone, and more recently broadband cooperatives, are rapidly becoming important players in high-quality Internet access for rural areas. Collaborations between member cooperatives that blend specific expertise and fiber infrastructure is a win for members and subscribers.