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American Recovery Plan grant to bring broadband to rural Kenosha County

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Rural internet service in portions of several western Kenosha County communities will be improved with help from an American Rescue Plan grant approved by the Public Service Commission.

An $872,171 grant awarded to Spectrum Mid-America LLC, will bring fiber broadband service to 918 residential locations in Paris, Brighton, and Bristol. It is one of 83 projects approved statewide that will benefit from $1 million in federal relief funds earmarked by Gov. Tony Evers for expansion of broadband in underserved locations.

The state Public Service Commission partially prioritized grant requests based on the cost of each project per household served. The requested funding for the 83 selected projects totals $99,932,502.

Lack of access to or reliability of internet is an issue rural municipalities have struggled with for years, with a heavy price tag attached to identifiable solutions. It is an issue that came to a head during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“All of our residents who live out in those rural areas have had difficulty trying to get internet service,” Bristol Village Administrator Randy Kerkman said, adding the village is extremely pleased with the grant award. “I know when kids were learning from home and parents working from home during the pandemic, it made their lives pretty miserable.”

Brighton Town Chair Sue Crane agreed.

“I can tell you that during the pandemic, when more and more people in Brighton stayed home to work, I did have several calls from people asking if there was an opportunity to get broadband,” Crane said. “So, I think this is exciting.”

Paris Town Chairman John Holloway said the town had been exploring ways to increase broadband access and will work with Spectrum to try and make sure the entire town is covered.

“It’s positive that Kenosha County got recognized and funds were made available,” Holloway said. “It is still our goal to make sure that all town residents will have access to the internet service they need.”

The application made by Spectrum was one of five submitted by companies that hoped to expand service to rural areas of Kenosha County. It calls for 24% of the total project costs coming from other grants or municipal contributions.

Each municipality will also have a local American Rescue Plan Act funding to draw from for various projects. Broadband access is one of the eligible uses of these funds.

Local state legislators praised the grant award.

“Our increased dependence on broadband Internet service over the last year and a half has underscored the need for reliable high-speed Internet access throughout Kenosha County,” said state Rep. Samantha Kerkman, R-Salem Lakes. “Residents and business owners in these communities can now move forward knowing that reliable broadband Internet is on the horizon.”

State Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, echoed those sentiments.

“This is great news,” Wanggaard said. “Having broadband access is increasingly necessary today.”

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