MARINETTE — Packerland Broadband of Iron Mountain, Mich., is making progress with a project to expand broadband access through the use of new technology to thousands of Marinette County households and businesses that is being partially funded by grants from the state and county, the County Board of Supervisors was told Tuesday.

“I reached out to Packerland recently and talked to Cory Heigl (its vice president),” County Administrator John Lefebvre said. “He said overall they are a little bit behind schedule on their deployments for their wireless infrastructure. 

“The manufacturer that they were working with for the TV White Space (technology) was not successful in evolving the product. They are now working with another entity to create this White Space technology.”

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission in April awarded a $210,733 grant to Packerland to enable broadband service to be expanded to about 4,000 households and 50 business in Marinette County. Packerland submitted the application in January in a partnership with Marinette County, Microsoft and the Town of Dunbar.

Lefebvre told the board in April that Packerland would be providing about $140,000 for the $421,000 project with Marinette County providing $60,000 and Microsoft $40,000, “with the Town of Dunbar looking at providing land for a tower.”

“They were trying to get 25-by-3 speeds and they weren’t successful with that first company so they switched companies and went to a Canadian firm called Redline Communications,” Lefebvre said. “Since then they have been able to achieve or surpass the 25-by-3 speeds and they launched a tower in Upper Michigan on Oct. 17.

“From what I understand they are getting some very good results from that. Now that they have a viable product in hand, they’re engineering other deployments throughout Northeastern Wisconsin and the U.P. with, obviously, a priority toward the Marinette County project because they received a grant for it.”

Heigl told the board in January that the project will deploy a wireless system utilizing 10 towers in Marinette County, mostly along the U.S. 141 corridor. He also said service would be provided along part of the U.S. 2 corridor, and that placement of a tower on Blueberry Point Road in the Town of Dunbar was planned.

The technology utilizes TV White Space, frequencies no longer used by TV channels.

“They’re working with the tower owners to secure access to them,” Lefebvre said. “They don’t own the towers. They need to attach fiber (optic cable) to the towers, they’re working on that. They’re also working on getting permits for the right of way.

“They believe they’ll have it all up and running by the early spring of 2019.”

Lefebvre said Packerland is “working on other possible solutions for filling the gap between the towers” it proposed to use for the project.

“One thing he (Heigl) did identify to me is that they’re working with Four Seasons Resort on Miscauno Island (near Pembine) to provide wireless service,” he said. “If they’re successful with that, wireless service could be fed to others in the community.”

Lefebvre told the board that “within the months ahead,” it will be asked to approve an agreement to appropriate the $60,000 that the county committed to provide for the project. He said a special antenna would be needed for reception and that signals would reach within about a five-mile distance from the towers where the equipment is placed.

Lefebvre said Packerland is trying to get the FCC to allow it to place its equipment higher on towers than current regulations allow so that the distance of the signals could be expanded. He said Marinette County did not submit an application to the state for the second round of broadband access grants.

“Mainly because we really wanted to see if this (project) was successful,” he explained. “It would make a much better picture to the state if we had a successful project. I decided I wasn’t going to apply unless this was completed.”

Supervisor Don Pazynski asked if the county had plans to pursue further expansion of broadband access. 

“I would hope, that would be my plan, to apply again (for a grant),” Lefebvre explained. “We would need to find a partner. Now that Packerland has actually deployed a wireless White Space unit, that is a little bit more comforting to me. They had not done that until Oct. 17. Now that they actually have the technology in place and are utilizing it, I feel a little bit more comfortable with it.”