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October 17, 2019

9/27/2019 11:12:00 AM
M.O.U in progress between Iowa County and Bug Tussel
Rural broadband access has been a big request of Iowa County citizens for quite some time. Iowa County may have some options, thanks to discussion that took place at a recent county executive committee meeting.
Iowa County Administrator Larry Bierke informed the committee that he is looking to create a backbone of fiber within Iowa County, a route that connects all of the cities, villages, and provides a fiber connection loop around the county. Conversations at this point include that Bug Tussel Wireless is interested in installing and owning fibers, and looks to move forward through a "public private partnership with Iowa County."
Bierke went on to explain that a public private partnership is necessary in order to apply for a public service commission grant, and it may be a significant project costing anywhere from $12-$15 million, not confirmed at this point.
"If we had this installed it would put us quite a ways ahead of most of our neighboring counties," Bierke said. "The county board, for three years now, has told me that they want greater internet access in Iowa County, and this is one step towards making that happen."
He presented the committee with a document that would give him permission to move forward and set the framework for that conversation via a Memorandum of Understanding (M.O.U).
Bug Tussel Wireless CEO Steve Schneider and Bug Tussel negotiation Counsel Anita Baluchi were in attendance at the meeting. Baluchi said to committee members that it is a multi-step project working with Bug Tussel to come up with a plan, and develop an application that will be submitted to the Public Service Commission (PSC). This will determine if Iowa County receives a PSC broadband grant. It is said that the grants that of most interest ask for half the project cost, with a commitment for the private partners to fund the remaining project cost, hence the M.O.U between Iowa County and Bug Tussel.
"There will be no project if we don't have the grant," Baluchi said. "So there's a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done in terms of what the final project will look like, and who the participants in the project will be."
It's possible that in addition to Iowa County, Green and Rock County may be part of the fiber backbone project. The MOU passing is the first step, followed by it being presented to the county for further review before the PSC's grant application deadline of December 19.
Ron Benish, chairperson of the committee meeting, requested clarification that the county can call a halt to this any particular time, if the county cannot afford the efforts going forward, which was confirmed.
CEO Schneider said that while the proposition is not going to every home, people want wireless connection and fiber optics have become the aggregator as wireless internet traffic increases. There was roughly 10,000 terabytes of traffic last year, in August and this year data has increased by 38,000 terabytes of data.
This fiber backbone would be an "open access system," which would potentially invite third party providers (wireless or wireline) to use or lease Bug Tussel fiber, and provide service to customers.
Currently fiber goes through a fiber to the home system, which is beginning to be replaced by 5G networks. However even if 5G is doing this, fiber is needed to have wireless signals be dispersed throughout the area and the globe.
Committee member Curt Peterson said that there are people that believe that the cell towers will decrease their land value, and they will need Iowa County Board's support before going forward.
"You have to understand for the greater good, it's going to have to be overseen by the individual," Peterson said.
Baluchi responded by saying that internet access will not happen in rural areas without towers.
"It's not just having towers, it also matters where they're placed," Baluchi said. "So that's when the community needs to work as best as they can with the tower builder, and finding that location that is sensitive to the aesthetics. But also it provides the location that the company needs to be able to provide the service."
Committee members felt the documentation met their approval and will forward the information onto the County Board for further action.

Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, October 1, 2019
Article comment by: Dave Marshall

Dear Editor, I appreciate the supervisors discussion and comments concerning the Iowa County and Bug Tussel M.O.U. In particular, I appreciated Supervisor Baluchi's comment about the importance of tower siting and aesthetics.
Unfortunately, both Iowa County and Town of Brigham standout in southwest Wisconsin for adopting PSC Broad Band Forward ordinances designed to eliminate public input and transparency. This past spring a new tower was erected in Brigham without public notification or independent technical review needed to determine if it serves the public interest. The tower siting in Brigham also involved an unpermitted Dane County driveway that is currently an unresolved legal matter. Siting the tower just across the county line in Brigham avoids the normal levels of public involvement and technical reviews used in Dane County and elsewhere. In the future I hope that Iowa County and Brigham can appreciate that citizen input and transparency can prevent harm and shape broad band expansion projects in ways that benefit everyone, and not just a few as many of us experienced in southeast Iowa County. Perry Township residents feel that they were harmed by this project as well.

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