Work continues on Grant County fiber optic, communications project

LANCASTER, Wis. — Work is progressing on a large communications and fiber-optic project in southwest Wisconsin.

Grant County supervisors received updates on the project Tuesday at their monthly meeting. Planned improvements include the construction of 10 radio towers for emergency communications and the installation of a 172-mile fiber-optic loop.

Project co-leader Shane Drinkwater told the supervisors that the work is going well at the first four construction sites, located in Platteville, Fennimore, Boscobel and Muscoda. Next year, work will begin on six more sites in the western Grant County.

Installation of the fiber-optic loop is slightly outpacing the construction of the new towers, but County Board Chairman Bob Keeney said the entire project should be completed in 2025.

Keeney described the project as being “under budget” so far. The project originally was budgeted for nearly $16 million in total, but he said the county saved more than $100,000 by taking bids for the first round of tower construction with hopes for additional savings moving forward.

The addition of the towers and fiber-optic loop will be helpful for a few reasons, including public safety and broadband access, he said.

“We don’t have adequate coverage of our radio system right now, so that’s the first advantage (in adding towers),” said Keeney, a former fire chief. “… The second advantage is we’re putting in the loop … so eventually we’ll see internet connectivity at rapid speeds.”

Drinkwater said the 172-mile fiber-optic line will run intentionally near institutions that could particularly benefit from high-speed internet, such as schools or government buildings. While the county won’t provide internet directly, the goal is that the added infrastructure will attract additional providers.

“The concept is that we were improving the return on investment for internet service providers to get into the county,” Drinkwater said after the meeting. “… Instead of a private company having to find a way to get service from Platteville to Lancaster, for example, we can say, ‘Hey, we have fiber going that way.’”

Project co-leader Sheriff Nate Dreckman told supervisors that the foundation is being poured for two radio towers in northern Grant County and that work is ongoing to acquire land for a few remaining sites.

In contrast with previous plans, Dreckman said the tower near Cassville no longer will be located across the Mississippi River in Clayton County, Iowa. Keeney later said this is in part due to a lack of interest from Iowa landowners.

Dreckman previously told supervisors that the topography of the area made Iowa a better choice for that tower, but he said Tuesday that they have “drawn back” on that idea.

“We think we can get the coverage we need for radio, and it keeps everything in Grant County,” he told supervisors.