Reedsburg Finally Launches Rural Expansion

Reedsburg Utilites, the owner and operator of a muni FTTH network north of Madison, Wisconsin, is finally moving forward on a project to connect rural areas of Sauk County. Last year, Reedsburg received a broadband stimulus award to expand its network but hit a series of stumbling blocks that called the project into question.

The first problem is a common one when taking federal money -- Davis-Bacon wage rules. The bids from contractors were higher than expected because the appropriate wages according to the law are sometimes based on flawed data. In this case, contractors based the wages on highway construction rates, which increased the costs of the project by 50%. In other cases, we've heard of Davis-Bacon setting rates in rural areas based on urban wages, making projects harder to finance.

Reedsburg apparently found a work-around (after first seeking a waiver from the provision):

Instead of accepting the bids, the utility decided to bid out rental contracts worth about $4 million to various companies, because the utility would not have to pay federal rates for temporary labor.

Then the prices for fiber-optic cable and duct rapidly increased due to the increase in demand from stimulus projects and the Japan earthquake. Finally, they were stuck waiting for final approval from RUS.

Now they are moving forward with the $9.5 million project ($5.2 million grant, the rest in revenue bonds), which is good given the apparent demand they are seeing for the service:

Douglas [Reedsburg Utilities Marketing and Media Specialist] said the utility has seen a very high rate of interest in the new service.

"I would say nine out of the 10 people I've talked to are on board, out of everyone we've met with so far," Douglas said.