The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

No broadband grant for Iron County


HURLEY — It appears Iron County will have to wait to implement its latest broadband internet project after the county failed to be awarded a state grant in the latest round of funding.

Last week, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission awarded $1.5 million in grants to 13 of the 53 applications it received.

Iron County had sought around $66,225 in grant funding — which, along with matching funds and in-kind labor from the county, the town of Mercer and, had been intended for a $134,451 project in southern Iron County.

The project would fund the construction of 150-foot towers on sites near Lake of the Falls and Spider Lake in the town of Mercer.

While the county wasn’t awarded funding in the latest round of grants, Iron County Development Zone Coordinator Kelly Klein said there is the possibility of additional funds becoming available once the state passes its budget.

A press release from Gov. Scott Walker’s office announcing the projects being funded said the proposed 2017-’19 biennial budget does include $11 million in additional funding over the next several years.

“I’m hopeful that’s the case and we can take another shot at (the grant),” Klein said.

However, the final amounts won’t be known until the budget is actually passed.

Regardless of whether more money becomes available this year, Klein said the county’s broadband proponents would continue working toward expanding access in the county.

The county has successfully applied for broadband expansion grants in the past.

In both 2015 and 2016, the county organized successful grant applications to expand access, netting a total of $121,105 in grants.

In 2015, $41,914 — along with local matching funds — went to a project to expand access in the areas around Saxon, Upson and the Gile Flowage. In 2016, a $79,101 grant went to expand access in the Pine Lake, Mercer, Saxon Harbor and Springstead areas.

On Friday, State Sen. Janet Bewley, D-Ashland, criticized the lack of funding to northwestern Wisconsin communities despite several that scored high enough to be in the top 13 of applicants.

“Two much needed and well prepared projects from our area were rated in the top 10 by the professional screening panel that provided recommendations to the state’s public service commission,” Bewley said. “Unfortunately, the politically-appointed commissioners rejected those recommendations and moved projects — including one that had been rated 47th out of 53 applicants — ahead of our communities.”

She also criticized the several successful projects that were either going to Dane County communities or large national telecommunications companies.

While no projects in Bewley’s district were awarded funding, projects in Vilas, Oneida and Florence counties did successfully secure funding.


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