Village debates voicing support for fiber expansion grant

By: Adam Rollins, Staff Writer
Posted 8/24/21

The Innsbrook Village Board of Trustees is debating whether and how to voice their support for fiber optic internet provider Gateway Fiber to receive a federal grant for rural broadband …

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Village debates voicing support for fiber expansion grant

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The Innsbrook Village Board of Trustees is debating whether and how to voice their support for fiber optic internet provider Gateway Fiber to receive a federal grant for rural broadband expansion.

Trustees discussed the topic during their Aug. 10 public meeting, prompted by a letter that village board Chairman Jeffry Thomsen said he was asked to sign by representatives of the privately owned Innsbrook Resort. The letter would express support for Gateway Fiber to receive grant funding for rural broadband construction from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Although they generally agreed that improved internet service would be useful for residents, trustees said they were wary of signing the letter because it purportedly makes some questionable representations about the village and its residents. Trustees said they also have important questions about how fiber optic internet would be offered to residents.

Trustee Trish Dunn said that despite invitations, representatives of Gateway Fiber have not come to meet with the village board to discuss possible plans for expanding to Innsbrook. The letter drafted by the resort seems to suggest there’s been some communication between the private entities, Dunn said, but the resort owners don’t represent all village residents.

Dunn noted that part of the economics of internet expansion is to target areas with a higher density of housing because that’s more profitable. She fears that Gateway Fiber will bring its internet to village residents within the private resort where houses are closer together, but skip over the more spread out homes of village residents who live outside the resort area. Dunn said the village board’s duty is to ensure all residents will be served equally before it voices its support for an internet expansion project.

Thomsen expressed additional concerns over assertions in the letter that the village board was asked to sign. He said it described village residents as showing overwhelming desire for fiber internet, and that there are many small businesses within the village that would benefit from the service. Thomsen said the board hasn’t gathered nearly enough information to assert the first point, and that they feel the second point is mostly untrue.

“I’m not going to sign a letter that’s been drafted for me that’s not true,” Thomsen said.

The board did solicit some feedback from residents, asking them to write letters discussing their thoughts on internet service. About eight people sent in letters, Thomsen said, most of which supported the need for better internet but were skeptical of what it would cost homeowners or the village.

“This is the year 2021. We are full time residents for 18 years living with the oldest landline (internet) service technology possible,” commented one resident in a letter read by Thomsen.

Board members said they want more feedback from residents and much more detailed information about Gateway Fiber’s offerings, buildout plans and cost to residents before they add their support for grant funding. The trustees said they’ll invite company representatives to speak with them in September.

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