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County tries for broadband cash

Funding sought for two projects in partnership with area firms

Marathon County has submitted broadband grant applications to the Public Service Commission (PSC) grant applications to fund two possible broadband expansion projects in rural areas, it was reported Monday to a county Broadband Task Force.

One grant application would fund a proposal involving three internet service providers--Northwoods Connects, Network Professionals and Bug Tussel- -that would expand broadband service all across Marathon County north of STH 29 and across the south central part of the county near Mosinee. This Marathon County Wireless Broadband Expansion Project was supported by 67 letters from local governments and individuals.

A second project would run 7.35 miles of fiber optic cable in the Hatley area. This Marathon County/Witten- berg Telephone FTTH Phase One project received 71 letters of support.

Task Force chairman John Robinson, Wausau, said the county, which scurried to get the grant applications completed by a due date, now will be in “wait and see mode” as the PSC decides how to award $24 million in broadband projects out of an estimated $100 million in grant applications. He said grant awards are likely to be announced in March 2021.

In other broadband related announcements:

_ Robinson said Marshfield Clinic has donated $30,000 towards improved county broadband. The money will be split between the Wittenberg telephone project and a county wireless project.

_ County board chairman Kurt Gibbs, town of Cassel, said a proposed bipartisan $908 billion federal coronavirus stimulus bill includes $10 billion for broadband expansion.

_ Robinson said Bug Tussel was working with counties around the state expanding broadband coverage by leveraging low-interest county financing, not using property tax levies. Gibbs said he has discussed this approach with administration in both Wood and La Crosse counties.