Platteville council exploring options to improve broadband connectivity

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — A group dedicated to lamenting the quality of Platteville’s sole residential internet service provider appeared on social media eight years ago.

People commiserate almost weekly, decrying repeated outages and challenges working with customer service representatives from the local provider, CenturyLink.

“There has been a perception in the community that somehow the city is in charge of this,” said Platteville Common Council President Barb Daus recently.

The city does not provide internet service nor have a contract with the telecommunications company, but complaints have increased to the point where the council included improving broadband connectivity as a priority in its 2021-2023 strategic plan.

“Depending on where you are in the region, some people have very good internet service and others do not,” said City Manager Adam Ruechel. “We hear constantly from businesses.”

Company spokesperson Danielle Spears said CenturyLink is in communication with the city and working to address concerns stemming from service interruptions.

“We’re proud to serve the people of Platteville and proud of the work our local employees do on behalf of our customers,” Spears said. “When an interruption does occur, we work to resolve any issues as quickly as possible.”

The council met with representatives from state agencies this week to explore the city’s options.

Jaron McCallum, state broadband director for Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, said the most popular method for developing or improving infrastructure is the Wisconsin Broadband Expansion Grant Program, which has financed numerous projects throughout the region.

Municipalities must partner with private entities to apply for the grant, and he encouraged the city to work with CenturyLink, which owns much of the fiber-optic cables that wind through the city.

Dani Jones, sector strategy development director at Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., said it is harder to convince new companies to expand their service territory without making a case the company can earn a return on investment.

Chris Stark, a community and development agent through University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension, encouraged the city to develop a broadband task force and survey residents to quantify the problem and identify gaps in service.

“Most of the development we have managed to have an effect on successfully has come from working as a group,” he said of his work in northern Wisconsin counties.

Grant County Supervisor Chairman Bob Keeney said the county intends to partner with area municipalities to form such a working group.

The meeting was the first of many the Platteville council intends to hold in the coming weeks, including one with CenturyLink.