Brown County eyes $27 million for Bug Tussel internet expansion

  • Brown County would use sales tax money to fund $27.2 million broadband expansion proposal
  • Bug Tussel Wireless would extend 25 Mbps to the majority of Brown County; the fiber lines would serve 6,000 people.
  • The infrastructure expansion agreement could include price caps for county residents.
  • The county council is expected to review the terms later this year.

A Green Bay-based wireless company is proposing to extend high-speed internet to thousands of properties in rural Brown County where service is slow, and to cap monthly rates.

But to get there, the company is asking for a nearly $30 million loan that would be taken from county sales tax revenue.

Bug Tussel Wireless submitted a proposal to extend download speeds of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of 3 Mbps to nearly all parts of the county, while also installing fiber optic lines that would extend the 300 Mbps and higher speed service at an estimate. 6,000 underserved homes, farms and businesses.

The FCC has set speeds of 25/3 as the baseline for high-speed Internet, often referred to as broadband, capable of handling basic functions such as email and Internet browsing, as well as some high-demand applications such such as video conferencing or online gaming. Someone with 25 Mbps could also download a high definition movie in about half the time it would take at 10 megabits per second.

Households with two or more people that require the use of multiple high-demand features such as gaming, virtual learning or 4K video streaming will likely need internet service faster than 25/3, according to the Household FCC Broadband Guide.

Bug Tussel’s proposal comes as consumer demand has led internet service providers in northeastern Wisconsin to introduce high-speed services throughout the region.

During a Sept. 21 presentation to Brown County Council, Bug Tussel CEO Steve Schneider presented an infrastructure proposal and timeline for service availability.

Bug Tussel would install a fiber optic cable network that extends from existing county and municipally owned fiber lines to rural areas of the county, as well as wireless and emergency towers. It would use some existing county-owned towers and build others in new coverage areas.

This network of fiber optic towers and cables would allow the company to provide 25 Mbps download service and 3 Mbps upload service to over 90% of the county within a year. Schneider said underserved areas would be targeted first with the aim of offering service within nine months of the start of work.

The added towers would also improve cell phone service in these areas.

Bug Tussel expects the installation of the fiber optic cable to take up to two years. The company would also connect any property within a set distance of the fiber line route. Current estimates are that approximately 6,000 properties would receive fiber optic cable.

Properties connected to the fiber optic line could purchase 300 Mbps download and upload service or 1 gigabit per second service from Bug Tussel.

A property or properties not connected to the fiber line could contact Bug Tussel to ask if fiber was extended to their property, but this would be subject to a separate fee charged to the owner.

The company has already reached agreements with Kewaunee, Oconto and other counties

Founded in 2003, Bug Tussel has grown rapidly in recent years by partnering with individual counties to expand cellular, wireless and fiber infrastructure with a focus on unserved rural areas of Wisconsin that others Internet service providers have neglected.

Nearby, Bug Tussel has partnerships with Kewaunee, Oconto, Calumet and Fond du Lac counties.

From a county perspective, the proposal is the culmination of Brown County’s fiber optic network planning, study and development that dates back to 2009. Local planning and network development has intensified in 2016, and the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for a fast and reliable network. broadband service across rural Wisconsin.

County staffers initially sought approval for a plan to extend fiber optic lines to upgrade the county’s 911 emergency system towers. The rural broadband subcommittee saw an opportunity to upgrade the 911 system and expand high-speed Internet service to underserved areas at the same time.

The subcommittee asked for proposals from internet service providers and Bug Tussel responded. County board member Richard Schadewald, chairman of the subcommittee, said the plan ‘encapsulates everything the committee wanted’ from an expansion plan, including extending the service to large speed to more than 40 parks, facilities and sites across the county.

A map of Wisconsin shows the green, yellow and red counties where Bug Tussel Wireless currently offers service or is expanding service.  Counties in purple have been targeted or are in discussion with Bug Tussel.

How would this be paid?

To pay for the necessary infrastructure, Bug Tussel asked the county for a loan of $27.2 million at 4% interest repayable over 30 years. The county would use its half percent sales tax money for the loan.

Both parties have yet to finalize the terms of the deal and bring it back to Brown County Council for final approval, likely before the end of the year.

The county would receive a lien on all fiber optic cables and towers until the loan is repaid. If Bug Tussel went bankrupt, the county would receive all of the company’s infrastructure in Brown County and a pro-rated share of its assets, currently estimated at around $300 million.

If the loan is approved, Bug Tussel could likely start construction no earlier than 2023.

RELATED:Northeast Wisconsin rushes to improve rural broadband after pandemic reveals ‘horrible’ internet speeds

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Does everyone in Brown County get fiber to their property?

No, not now.

August Neverman, the county’s director of broadband, estimated it would cost at least $300 million, possibly as high as $400 million, to extend fiber lines to every property in Brown County.

Schneider said the nearly $30 million project proposed by Bug Tussel would reach some rural areas, but provide infrastructure that other internet service providers, like Charter or Nsight, could leverage to further develop fiber networks in the count.

“We will invest the first $30 million to encourage others to invest beyond that,” Schneider said.

Bug Tussel makes money from subscribers and by leasing its fiber infrastructure to other internet service providers who want to extend service to new customers. Beyond county-supported work, Schneider said Bug Tussel will also apply for state and federal grants to further expand its fiber network into unserved pockets in Brown County.

Bug Tussel Wireless has proposed a $27 million plan to expand high-speed Internet service in rural Brown County.

How much will broadband internet cost me?

Bug Tussel would offer three-tier service and agree, as part of the agreement with Brown County, to cap the price paid by residents for a specified period, most often three years, Schneider said.

He told Brown County council members that Bug Tussel would cap 25/3 Mbps service at $50 per month, 300/300 Mbps service at $75, and 1 Gbps service at $100.

Contact Jeff Bollier at (920) 431-8387 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @JeffBollier.