The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) awarded $24 million in broadband expansion grants last Thursday, including more than $2.7 million for broadband advances in Vilas, Oneida and Forest counties.

The total amount awarded is greater than all previous expansion grant rounds combined and will go to communities and providers to expand high-speed internet in unserved and underserved areas of the state.

Communities and companies in this area receiving funds will include the towns of Lincoln, Washington and Boulder Junction in Vilas County, Woodruff in Oneida County and Forest County.

“Current events underscore the fact that access to broadband is an essential service, not an extravagance or luxury,” said Rebecca Cameron Valcq, chairperson of the PSC. 

“These grants will go toward expanding high-speed internet in underserved areas so students can connect to their learning platforms; telemedicine can be utilized for people in need; and those who work from home are able to do so. Broadband offers the ability to connect when connectivity is needed the most.”

Area projects

The broadband expansion grants awarded in this area include:

• Charter Communications, towns of Lincoln and Washington project, $133,645. This project will build a cable internet service in two areas in Vilas County. The first area is in the town of Lincoln northeast of Eagle River. The second area is near Deerskin Lake in the town of Washington. The project will build past 15 business and 695 residential locations

• CenturyTel of Northern Wisconsin, LLC d/b/a CenturyLink, town of Boulder Junction fiber project, $1,624,094. This project will build a fiber to the premises service past 85 business and 660 residential locations in the Boulder Junction telephone ex¬≠change in Vilas County.

• Charter Communications, town of Woodruff project, $16,500. This project will build a cable internet service in a subdivision west of Highway 47 at Walter Drive, in the town of Woodruff in Oneida County. The project will build past 76 residential locations.

• Forest County fiber and fixed wireless project, $939,200. This project will build and equip 17 wireless transmission tower sites in Forest County. The project will also build an 11-mile fiber to the premises service along roads adjacent to Metonga Lake south of Crandon. The combined project will build past 100 business and 1,695 residential locations.

143 applications

The state biennial budget signed by Gov. Tony Evers in July 2019 included $48 million for broadband expansion grants, with authorization to award up to $24 million in state fiscal year 2020. In December 2019, applications for funding were due. The PSC received 143 applications requesting $50.3 million for large and small projects.

“Right now we’re seeing the real need to connect folks with broadband in the clearest ways,” said Evers. “We listened to the people that broadband needed to be expanded and these grants are doing exactly that.”

Statewide, the 72 new grants will extend high-speed internet access to as many as 3,182 business locations and 46,537 residential locations, including 39,778 locations that are currently unserved. 

An announcement will be made in the coming months for when the next broadband expansion grant round will open for the 2021 state fiscal year.

This week, the PSC also put a list of the telecommunications providers who are providing low or no cost broadband service during the COVID-19 public health emergency on the PSC website at