County backs broadband grant application by Spectrum
By Heather Graves
BROWN COUNTY – The county board unanimously approved a resolution supporting a broadband internet grant application by Spectrum Mid-America, LLC, at its July meeting, which includes the county contributing $500,000 toward the project.
“This is a time-sensitive thing,” District 24 Supervisor Richard Schadewald said.
The state was asking for grant applications from a number of telecoms from all of Wisconsin by July 27.
Spectrum applied for the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) Broadband Access Grant for a proposed project on the east side of Brown County.
The estimated total project cost is $11.7 million – which includes approximately $7.2 million from Spectrum, the $500,000 pledged by the County and the remaining $4.5 million sought from the State of Wisconsin through the grant application.
The project, for the fiscal year 2022, is expected to provide access to high-speed broadband internet to approximately 2,394 underserved homes and businesses in eastern Brown County.
Schadewald, who serves as the chair of the county’s rural broadband subcommittee, said the resolution was approved unanimously at the special administration meeting just prior to the July 21 county board meeting.
“We are asking the county board to also support this because it does several positive things for the constituency of Brown County,” he said. “This is not the end of our broadband work. This is just the beginning of our work… And understand that if the state does not grant their application, then (the county) doesn’t expend any funds.”
Though the vote was unanimous, not all supervisors were comfortable with the lack of language regarding where the money would be coming from if Spectrum is awarded the grant.
The resolution states “this resolution requires an appropriation of $500,000 if the grant is awarded to Spectrum. At the time of award, the county would determine the funding source.”
District 9 Supervisor Pat Evans said not naming a specific funding source is bad government.
“I think we should spell out the sources,” Evans said. “It is extremely, fiscally irresponsible to say we are going to spend $500,000 and not have a source.”
Chad Weininger, director of administration, said he understands Evans’ concerns, but it is “somewhat of an odd situation.”
“Usually when something is brought to me, it is usually an appropriation from the general fund…,” Weininger said. “The reason I didn’t put the general fund, which I normally would do, or a specific source, is because there are potential American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds that would qualify for this.”
Schadewald said the specifics on the ARPA funds won’t come out until August, but broadband has been mentioned often in connection with it.
“Water, sewer and broadband have been highlighted in the rescue plan, and I believe (our portion of the project) will qualify for ARPA funds,” he said. “I don’t want to hamstring us by taking it out of the general fund and then they say ‘Well, you can’t reimburse the general fund, you should have thought of that sooner.’”
Through the 2020-21 fiscal year, the PSC awarded grants totaling $78 million to 279 projects, including $28.4 million for 58 projects announced this past March, since it was started in 2013.
The recently signed 2021-23 state budget includes $125 million for broadband expansion grants.
According to a PSC press release, it plans to award up to $100 million for projects throughout the state.
The PSC expects to make award decisions in early fall.
If approved for the 2022 fiscal year grant, Spectrum is required to complete its project by the end of 2024.