Residents and businesses in Drammen, Wisconsin are about to benefit from a combination of state grants and public financing to bring fiber connectivity which promises to cover the whole town over the next two years. Twin projects by neighboring telephone cooperatives will utilize a total of $1.9 million to expand into the town of about 800, located 10 miles southwest of Eau Claire, which has long struggled with adequate Internet service.
By Our Powers Combined
The work comes in part as the result of two funding streams. The first is $1.5 million from among the $28.4 million awarded to 58 projects around the state by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin via the latest round of awards from the Broadband Expansion Grant Program, in March 2021. 24-7 & West Wisconsin Telcom Cooperative received $710,000 to connect six businesses and 110 residences on the west side of town, while Tri-County Communications Cooperative received $740,000 to connect six businesses and 156 residences on the east side of town. All told, the two cooperatives will install 58 miles of fiber connecting 278 residents and businesses.
Drammen is playing a key role in driving the project along, successfully acquiring a low-interest $400,000 loan from the Wisconsin Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, which manages a state trust fund that supports, among an array of other activities, municipal infrastructure projects like these. The award, announced in April, will join the grants to facilitate the construction.
A Long, Local History
24-7 & West Wisconsin Telcom Cooperative was founded 65 years ago by local farmers trying to bring telecommunications to their areas. Today, it has connected communities in Chippewa, Dunn, Eau Claire, Pepin, Pierce and St. Croix counties.
Tri-County Communications Cooperative has a similar origin story, forming as a telephone cooperative in 1966. In 2010, it started its first FTTH project, and today, 11,000 households have Tri-County Communications Cooperative’s fiber-optic Internet.
Investing in Publicly Owned Broadband Infrastructure
Both 24-7 & West Wisconsin Telcom Cooperative and Tri-County Communications Cooperative received awards for projects around the state via the Broadband Expansion Grant Program.
The average disbursement of the program was about $490k, with 24-7 Telecom placing winning applications for five projects totaling almost $2 million. Tri-County, for its part, won $900,000 total across its two projects in Drammen and the town of Arcadia.
Cooperatives were well-represented, comprising almost half of the awards in total. The city of Reedsburg, which has been expanding its fiber Lightspeed Internet service recently, also won four bids from the recent grant round totalling more than $1 million to add around 620 locations in the surrounding communities of Buena Vista, Fairfield, Lyndon, and Spring Green.
"Whether we're looking at kids and learning, to seniors who weren't even able to connect to the outside world to talk to their family, even when we talk about small businesses that were not able to get broadband and get their products online," State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski said during the announcement back in April. "I think this is going to be an economic game-changer."
Drammen hopes to see the majority of locations brought online by 2022 or 2023.