A grass roots survey revealed internet service levels below the federal baseline threshold. 

Lakeland Communications and the Town of Osceola are trying again for a grant to help bring broadband internet service to residents.

In December Lakeland Communications learned that the grant they had submitted in the fall was not awarded. 

“The why is a bit higher but it followed the federal guidelines which gave higher grading to co-op and nonprofits. They had awarded 85% of the grant to business in these credentials,” explained Robert Zuzek, Director of Business Development at Lakeland Communications.

The purpose of the grant is to improve internet service and access for underserved residents and provide better access to broadband throughout a larger portion of town.

Lakeland is working with a number of local, county and the state Public Service Commission on submitting a grant application for a larger area in southwestern Polk County covering Osceola Township, Farmington Township and part of Alden Township. This southwester corner of the county covers about half of the broadband underserved are-as of Polk County. 

“This grant will resolve most of the underserved areas and would provide fiber-robust internet to businesses and residents throughout the communities,” said Robert Zuzek, 

“The Town of Osceola considered applying for the grant themselves but it became apparent that it could be more conducive to partner with a local broadband provider,” said Town Supervisor Neal Gustafson, “Lakeland Communications approached the Town of Osceola to partner with them in the grant application and cost sharing. On the Town’s part it would help show our commitment to expanding broadband services to our residents.” 

“Lakeland had already committed to a very large infrastructure project in the Town during 2021 would bring their service down into the town,” Gustafson explained.

“The infrastructure would come down from St. Croix Falls on the Menards road past the Rod and Gun club then along Horse Lake to County Road M which it would take back to the Village of Osceola city limits and connect with a line that is already in place.” 

“The new infrastructure would provide future access to broadband services for many of our residents, as well as strengthen Lakeland’s overall network. This (2021) project was completely at Lakeland’s expense,” said Gustafson.

“The grant project would have extended their service south from County Rd M and through the Town of Osceola to serve our underserved areas.”

In July 2021, residents of Osceola Township conducted a grassroots survey about accessibility to internet service and speeds within the community. 

The study identified 140 locations and 110 locations were surveyed. In a short period of time, the study was able to obtain 63 responses. 

The survey revealed that although certain locations were shown as served on the eligibility map  - they were not receiving service levels of 25/3 megabytes per second (Mbps) – the Federal base-line threshold.

For download speeds only one residence out of 110 received speeds over 25 Mbps. 95% (or 60 out of 63) households received speeds below 11Mbps. 32% (58 out of 63) households received speeds below 1Mbps. 

The study found that upload speeds did not yield better results. Not a single household met the federal threshold of 3Mbps. Only one home documented speeds over 2Mbps. 92% (58 out of 63) of the households fell at or below 1Mbps. 65% (41 out of 63) of households fell below .5Mbps.

Two respondents indicated that they were denied service by an incumbent wireline provider.

Most notably the study found a significant need for improved internet service in the proposal area specified in the grant  - which is south of County road M. The project would go south on 240th Street go west across the southern town border at 60th Avenue and then travel east to the town line.

In July 2013, the state of Wisconsin created the Broadband Expansion Grant program to help meet the demand for improved broadband and encourage its development in Wisconsin’s unserved and underserved areas. 

The use of public grant funds directs and supports broadband infrastructure development to needed locations in the state. 

The Public Service Commission (PSC) is the organization that sponsors the broad-band expansion grant. 

In addition to the grassroots survey conducted by Osceola residents, the PCS also identified an underserved internet service area in the Town of Osceola. 

Originally the area identified started with (approximately) County Rd M as its northern border and extended to the eastern town line, southern town line and 240th street as the western border.

The re-application process will include an expanded area, north of County Rd M, be-tween 240th street and Oak drive and would serve quite a few more residences. 

“We have built a number of miles through Osceola township last year and I believe this passed 257 additional households that will be activated this spring,” Zuzek explained, “We are also building additional segments of the community north of the proposed area in the grant.”

“The total project cost would be approximately $3,000,000 (round numbers). The State of WI through the state broadband will provide match funds and we had requested their match to be just over $1,500,000. ” said Zuzek. “The Town of Osceola committed to providing 10% of their ARPA funds or $80,000 to partner with Lakeland in the project.”

Lakeland Communications will be submitting another grant. The deadline to submit the grant is March 17, 2022. 

“We are very optimistic on being awarded the grant this cycle. If awarded, which we will not find out till around June, construction would begin this year and be completed in 2023,” said Zuzek.

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