UTILITIES – Broadband in business – 4G coverage makes its way into Door County’s tricky terrain

Posted on Aug 1, 2012 :: Industries
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

With smartphones, laptops and wireless Internet connections, a person can work from just about anywhere. Unfortunately, Door County’s natural beauty that attracts tourists and people looking to live where they play has made it difficult to access cell service and high-speed Internet through much of the peninsula.

By the end of the year, however, that will change. Green Bay-based Cellcom is currently building a fiber optic network that will eventually stretch all the way to Ellison Bay, bringing 4G coverage to the entire county, with the exception of Chambers and Washington islands.

“Companies have said before they were going to do this, but it didn’t get done. We’re committed to doing it,” says Pat Riordan, Cellcom’s president and CEO. “Having access to a high-speed network is essential for businesses and individuals who need to get business done.”

Broadband coverage is usually defined as having enough bandwidth to carry multiple voice, video or data channels at the same time so consumers, for example, can listen to a live-streaming radio station while also updating their Facebook status or checking their email. Riordan says broadband is fast becoming an essential communication tool for businesses, schools and families to communicate.

Once the project is complete, Cellcom will have not only brought high-speed broadband coverage to the county, it will also increase its wireless network and expand the capacity for data services. Cellcom is a Verizon LTE in Rural America partner, so customers of both carriers can use the service.

Bringing broadband coverage to Door County – at least north of Sturgeon Bay – has taken so long because of the region’s geology, Riordan says.

“Door County is basically a ledge – there’s not much topsoil there so you need to drill into rock, which costs two or three times as much as putting in normal wire,” he says, adding that its location as a peninsula also adds to the difficulty. “You’re basically going up to the tip and that’s it. You can’t really connect with any other networks.”

In Sturgeon Bay, the new fiber optic network runs through the Sturgeon Bay Industrial Park and past the hospital and shipyards. Sam Perlman, economic development manager for the Door County Economic Development Corp., says the improved broadband accessibility is essential for the area’s economy.

“Nsight Telecommunications (Cellcom’s parent company) worked with us on placing the fiber network in Sturgeon Bay so it was accessible by the most businesses,” he says. “We’ve been working for a long time to improve telecom connectivity in Door County. For businesses, broadband connectivity is essential, not just a luxury.”

Beyond Sturgeon Bay, other communities in Northern Door County are also eager for the improved coverage as they look to lure businesses to their communities, too. “A lot of what we do is to market to our seasonal residents – people who already love Door County – and encourage them to move a business here or start another business here. Improved telecommunications will help us do that better,” Perlman says.

Then there are the professionals who frequent Door County as visitors, but still need to stay connected to the office. “Door County is an amazing place that attracts people from all over the nation and the improved technology will only do more to enhance their stay,” Riordan says.

Before Cellcom announced its plans last year, Perlman says other carriers had announced plans to bring broadband coverage to the region, but walked away due to cost concerns. Cellcom tried to secure federal and state grants for the project, but stayed with it even though those dollars never materialized.

Riordan says the company is making the investment in Door County because it will improve economic development throughout the region. “Internet connectivity is vital to businesses and it’s important that we’ve made this investment. We pride ourselves as being a creative, forward-thinking rural carrier,” he says.

Once Door County’s 4G network is complete, Riordan says the New North will be well covered when it comes to technology.

“We have lines going up through Marinette and Oconto counties as well as into Iron Mountain, Mich. What has slowed us in Door County is simply how difficult it is to lay the wires there,” he says.

Staying Connected

The Wisconsin Technology Council’s report on “Connecting Rural Wisconsin: The Economic Necessity of Broadband” outlines the economic and social benefits of bringing broadband Internet coverage to rural areas throughout the state:

» Creating more businesses related to information technology, one of the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. economy.

» Enabling hospitals and clinics to make better use of telemedicine.

» Providing rural Wisconsin residents with greater access to higher education or continued education through “distance learning” systems.

» Making rural Wisconsin more likely to attract large data centers, which are the information storage citadels of today’s IT-driven businesses and corporations.

» Enhancing tourism, which today involves making the right sales connections on the front end – and keeping visitors connected during their stay.

» Increasing public safety.

To read the report, go to www.wisconsintechnologycouncil.com/publications