Sunday, September 1, 2019

Update on Kewaunee Broadband Boondoggle



Thought it was time to have an update on how the County Administrator is working hard to blow a million or more of your tax dollars on a broadband boondoggle.

You know if something smells like horse dung, looks like horse dung, it probably is horse dung!

First, here is the Mission Statement of the Broadband Committee taken right from their minutes.
Read this mission statement carefully word by word.  Notice, there is no mention of spending tax dollar one in this statement?  What it does state is the committee will research, gather info, and educate the board and encourage third party investment.  That's all good, but it seems this is horse dung as well because, on the 21st of June, our County Legal Counsel Jeff Wisnicky who sits on that committee told me directly they want to spend the first million we've received from Dominion and maybe more on this broadband project.  I called the Administrator Feldt on this issue, he didn't answer, I left a message and he didn't return the call.

Last meeting of this Broadband Committee was on May 22.  Those minutes are now posted on the county website.  In those minutes, Administrator Feldt reported Door County Broadband had established a tower in Lincoln Township.  Could it possibly be that Administrator Feldt has a "special relationship" with Door County Broadband as he never talks about, or has talked to other broadband providers that are providing service in the county to include Bertrand and Mercury.

The committee is now reportedly investigating "Mesh WiFi"  opportunities and how to perhaps co-op with some company like Public Service in using their power poles to mount internet boosters on their poles or use other services they might have.  A mesh technology system works very much like a network of cell phone towers only with different technology.  One tower serves multiple customers and the towers are close enough that if one fails another tower picks up the load.  This is what broadband vendors are doing already.

Let's tear into this a bit. 
The whole idea sounds wonderful to residents.  They think if the County provides access points they will have free internet.  NOTHING IS FREE, there will be monthly fees of $60 to $100 or more for service which is available today through various vendors.

This whole idea was hatched by the County Administrator along with Board Member Lee Luft.  This is a bit complicated, so I would suggest you go back to review my earlier articles on this subject.  Go to www.ronheuer.com and review the Oct 26, 2018 article and the Jan 18, 2019 posts I have made on this subject. You can review the budgeting debacle by reading these two posts.

A Slight of Hand/Obfuscation?
According to Mr. Weidner, the County Board Chairman, he had no prior knowledge of the fact that the County Administrator Mr. Scott Feldt had added $1,000,000 to the budget to be spent on broadband in the County.  Thank God, Weidner worked with the board, and had that removed from the budget. That is when the Broadband Committee was established.

Mr. Feldt insisted the money from Dominion was to be used for "Economic Development."  Turns out that was a boldface lie, and by the way, it didn't take long before Administrator Feldt had other board members like Luft espousing the same lie.  (This is consistent with the idea, "Tell a lie over and over, and pretty soon people will believe it). The payment from Dominion was clearly and simply provided to the County to fill a budgetary gap left in the County budget with the closure of the Nuclear Plant.  There were no strings attached to that money.  The County can use that money for roadwork, tax rebate, you name it.

This whole dung stinking public broadband idea has come from a couple of people on the board and the KCEDC who say "We need high speed internet to attract businesses to Kewaunee Co."  They believe that "If you build it and they will come."  They believe that, if Kewaunee County has "extraordinary" high speed internet, there will be traffic jams on Highways 29, 42 and 54 with people wanting to relocate here.

But let's face facts.  The 1900 census showed 17,212 people in Kewaunee Co., and the 2010 census showed 20,574 people in Kewaunee Co.; a growth over 110 years of 3,362 people or an average of 30 people a year.  Four generations of growth or so, not impressive at all.

Reality, Growth has never been on the radar for the County
This County was an agricultural community 110 years ago and it still is.  In fact many townships have had, or do have restrictions as to how many acres of land you must own before you can build a house on your own land.  These restrictions were in place to preserve agricultural land.  BTW, if you haven't noticed, we don't have an Interstate Hwy touching our County, and if I am not mistaken, there is one rail spur left in the County that goes to the feed mill in Luxemburg. For years local residents of Kewaunee Co. have shunned growth, they wanted Kewaunee Co. to be kept pristine and did not seek growth.  Further, look no further than the City of Kewaunee.

Under the leadership of the previous Mayor, John Blaha the city received over $4.2M in State grants to redo the sea wall and develop the port area which was intended to draw construction of a hotel, restaurants and shops .  What happened after Blaha was not reelected?  Well, the State finished the sea wall and port development two years ago and it's been sitting there just as they left it.   With the current leadership in Kewaunee, my guess is that two years from now the answer will be the same on that project, Nothing done!

Why Should Our Taxpayers fund a portion of the broadband development?
They shouldn't!  High speed internet service by definition of the FCC already exists in the County, you just have to pay for it.  According to the FCC 10 MBPS per second download and 4 MBPS upload is considered to be the current "high speed" standard.

Internet users that demand high speed like Pagel Ponderosa and Kinnard Farms invested directly with providers to pull in fiber which gives them super access, probably up to 100 MBPS dedicated download.  Businesses can get fiber here if they want it or need it.  Heck, the County Administration building on Lincoln Street has fiber pulled to it.

There are a number of internet service providers like Mercury.net that will, at their expense, install high speed distribution systems if there is a demand (install meaning a mini-tower or nodes on a silo, or other high points).  By demand, I mean, a group of customers in a specific area that are willing to sign a one year contract for their high speed services.

I ran a consulting company from my home and had need to video conference and transfer large packets of data.  I made that work at my expense by paying about $210 per month with Verizon to have 4G access at my home with download speeds averaging about 20 MBPS and uploads of 7 MBPS.  It was adequate, but the data limits sometimes shot my monthly costs up quite high over the $210 figure.  I could stream Netflix HD movies, but the cost of doing so was prohibitive.  I didn't expect the County to fix my issue.  I fixed it myself as have hundreds of other people in the County have done themselves.

Even though I had a visual view of a Bertrand tower to my South and a Mercury.net tower to my North.  I couldn't access either tower because the trees were in the way.  So, I worked with Mercury.net.  I put in 600 feet of underground wire to get electric to a location where I had clear line of sight to the tower North of me.  It cost me, all in, about $600 to do this, but now I have consistent speeds of 20 MBPS download for 200 Gigs per month (that exceed the FCC standard) I pay $100 a month for this service.  And, my speeds are not slowed down after 60 or 80 Gigs.

So What Should the County's Role be?
Nothing.  It is a business that is driven by demand and best left to the private sector to own and manage.

Unfortunately, the whole high speed internet picture is really complicated and ever changing.  Most people cannot get their minds engaged to understand it fully.  The only role the County should/could play in this initiative would be to conduct comprehensive surveys to the inhabitants of the County.  Unfortunately developing a comprehensive survey that the rank and file person would understand is a challenge.

Go back and review my Oct blog where I have listed a number of companies that already provide service in the County.