Eau Claire County Courthouse

Eau Claire County Courthouse

The Eau Claire County Broadband Committee on Thursday discussed the best ways to expand and speed up internet and phone service in rural Eau Claire County.

John Feldman, Vice President and General Manager of PCS Technologies in St. Paul, Minn., gave a presentation on wireless frequency options and coverage areas of cellular towers in different parts of Eau Claire County.

Scott Hoffmann, a committee member and CEO of WIN Technology, asked Feldman what advice he would give to the committee to better address underserved areas in the county.

Partnerships, such as public-private collaboration with Eau Claire County and internet providers, are crucial to improving services, Feldman said.

Similarly, Rod Eslinger, an ex-officio committee member and director of the county planning and development department, said he hopes to continue to build maps out and gather more data on broadband towers to better understand the county’s needs.

Eslinger Thursday presented preliminary maps showing information on different coverage areas in the county.

“It’s not a perfect science,” Eslinger said. “We’re going to need partners. We won’t be able to go through this by ourselves.”

The maps can ideally help the committee make more succinct, informed decision regarding potential broadband expansion in the future.

As another avenue of making its expansion plans known, the committee will draft an application by next month to receive Broadband Forward certification at the county level, since multiple townships in the county are in the process of applying for Telecommuter Forward certification.

The certifications are awarded by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin and serve as an official acknowledgement of a town or county’s interest to expand and improve services in those areas.

The certification would eventually be part of an ordinance which requires approval from several committees before being brought to the Eau Claire county board.

Frank Draxler, an ex-officio committee member and county administrative operations manager, said those certifications increase statewide awareness about the county’s intentions to improve and could make it more likely to receive grant funding.

The committee aims to begin applying for grants in spring 2020. Committee members mentioned the possibility of pairing a grant application with another entity wishing to expand tele-health or improve internet services in schools, for example.

Another option in several years could be applying for funding to run fiber cables to provide energy for wind turbines.

The next broadband committee meeting is scheduled for Dec. 19.