A tech firm already providing high-speed Internet to parts of Rusk County has plans to expand its network using funds from a federal grant announced last week.
The United States Department of Agriculture is investing $3 million to provide broadband service in unserved and underserved rural areas in Wisconsin. This investment is part of the $550 million Congress allocated to the second round of the ReConnect Program.
The USDA supports both farmers and rural communities through investments in farm operations and essential infrastructure, according to USDA Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Bill Northey.
“Broadband is so important to farms and other businesses as it can help improve the quality of life in rural communities and help grow rural economies,” Northey said.
Ntera, LLC will use a $3 million grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 2,044 people, 33 farms and 33 businesses to high-speed broadband internet in Chippewa, Rusk and Taylor counties. Ntera is a joint venture between Chippewa Valley Electric Cooperative and Citizens Connected, with offices in Cornell and New Auburn. Itprovides homes and businesses with leading-edge internet, video and voice services through a 100 percent fiber optic network.
Rural development achieves e-connectivity success when firms like Ntera bring broadband to the most rural areas in the communities they serve, according to Frank Frassetto, director of USDA Rural Development in Wisconsin.
“We have been working tirelessly to be a strong partner to rural Wisconsin in building stronger and healthier communities, because we know when rural America thrives, all of America thrives,” Frasetto said.
Ntera was created in 2017 with the goal of bringing Fiber-Fast broadband services to underserved areas. Today, Ntera serves over 600 subscribers in the surrounding Holcombe area including sections of the townships of Willard, Washington, Lake Holcombe and Birch Creek. In March 2020, Ntera was awarded state broadband grants to aid in bringing these services to areas of Sheldon including the village and along County D as well as the Cranberry Lake area in Holcombe and areas of Cornell and Cadott.
In March 2018, Congress provided $600 million to USDA to expand broadband infrastructure and services in rural America through a program called ReConnect.
The Broadband ReConnect Program furnishes loans and grants to provide funds for the costs of construction, improvement, or acquisition of facilities and equipment needed to provide broadband service in eligible rural areas.
Last April 20, USDA announced the Department has received 172 applications for $1.57 billion in Round Two of the ReConnect Program. The second round will enable USDA to implement innovative new solutions to rural connectivity by leveraging financial options with partners and continuing the success of the first round of funding. The application window for the second round of funding closed last April 15.
In the first round of ReConnect funding, USDA invested $698 million to bring high-speed broadband e-Connectivity to approximately 167,000 households, 17,000 rural small businesses and farms, and more than 500 health care centers, educational facilities and critical community facilities located in 33 states.
USDA received 11 Round Two ReConnect Program applications that are eligible for the $100 million Congress allocated to the program through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. The CARES Act was signed into law last March and provides more than $2 trillion in public health and economic relief relating to COVID-19
USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas.
CVEC has been providing reliable electric service to the Chippewa Valley for over 80 years. CVEC serves Chippewa County and also parts of Rusk, Taylor, Dunn and Barron counties. CVEC has about 7,500 accounts which are served by over 1,300 miles of line. The distribution system is maintained by 21 full-time employees.
Citizens Connected has been providing Internet, Video, and Voice services since 1952. Citizens Connected’s 100 percent fiber optic network passes over 3,200 homes and businesses in parts of Barron, Chippewa, and Rusk counties. The network is maintained by 19 full-time employees.