Vernon Communications Co-op: Broadband Grants Work

From marketing your agribusiness to doing your schoolwork — broadband is not a luxury, it’s a requirement. Bringing high-speed internet to rural Wisconsin has been a focus at the state and
federal levels. Rural providers want to see it continue.

Millions of dollars have trickled down to providers to not just lay the fiber, but get what they call the ‘last mile’ of service to the end user. Vernon Communications Cooperative CEO Garin Mayer defines ‘last mile’ as bringing fiber right to your doorstep.

The cooperative has received $14 million in grants over the last six years. It has brought high-speed internet to about 4,000 homes and businesses in and around Vernon County. Mayer says the broadband grants have been able to justify the cost of installing this infrastructure in rural Wisconsin.

“For a lot of us small providers, without grant money, it’s very difficult to build a case going into last mile territories,” Mayer says. “The grants really open the doors for us.”

The main hurdle is construction costs in bringing fiber to your rural doorstep, he says. It makes sense to put fiber in where there are a dozen homes in one block. But in rural Wisconsin, you might have just one to three homes in a square mile.

With broadband, kids can do homework and parents can work from home. Mayer says it allows families to live in rural communities and for small businesses to expand.

“It’s a game changer for rural Wisconsin residents to be able to have that high-speed broadband,” he says.