The Kewaunee County Executive Committee has recommended approval of a loan agreement with Bug Tussel Wireless of Green Bay as part of a project to improve local high-speed internet access.
The committee vote Monday (Aug. 3) followed discussion of the $960,000 state grant Bug Tussel received to create a fixed wireless service comprised of building up to seven new towers and leasing space on four or five existing towers around and just outside the county.
One of 72 grants the state Public Service Commission awarded in the latest round of Broadband Expansion Grants, the Kewaunee County project is expected to reach 199 businesses and 12,115 residential locations within the footprint of the antennas.
The nearly $2.4 million project is also funded by a $500,000 commitment from Bug Tussel as well as a 12-year loan for the balance from the county to Bug Tussel. The county loan is what the committee approved Monday; the Finance Committee will also review the agreement before it reaches the full Kewaunee County Board on Aug. 18.
Jason Wied, Bug Tussel’s chief operating officer and general counsel, told the committee that the company hopes to complete the site acquisition and leasing process within 45-60 days, and that will be followed by seeking approvals from the FCC, FAA and other federal, state and local regulatory agencies.
“We are a very highly regulated industry, so ground is not broken until we pass muster with multiple agencies,” Wied said. “That process from start to finish takes about 120 days.”
The expectation is that the towers will be up and live on the air by early next year, he said.
In answer to a question from Supervisor Tom Romdenne, Wied said Bug Tussel crews “haven’t missed a day of work” and have been busy seven days a week during the state-imposed lockdowns that have accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic, as internet access is considered an essential service.
Talks are in progress with multiple landowners, and reaction to the project has been positive, Wied said.
“It tells us people are interested in our services,” he said. “We are very optimistic about the entire Kewaunee County process.”
Wied and Bug Tussel CEO and president Steve Schneider intend to be available to answer supervisors’ questions during the Aug. 18 County Board meeting.
County Board Chairman Dan Olson said Bug Tussel is also working toward a second phase of the project and plans to apply for another state grant involving fiber optics.
“Obviously the county is very interested in pursuing that, and my understanding is that Bug Tussel has a great deal of experience and success with those type of grant requests,” Olson said.
The ad hoc Broadband Study Committee, chaired by former County Board chairman Robert Weidner, is expected to meet soon to discuss Phase 2, Olson said.