November 14, 2022

Tribe in rural northern Wisconsin, facing internet speeds ‘close to dial-up,’ will use $25M grant to build its own internet service

Author: Frank Vaisvilas

LAC DU FLAMBEAU – Frustrated by poor internet service from that part of Wisconsin’s only commercial provider, Lac du Flambeau tribal officials decided to build and operate their own internet.
“During COVID, it came out like a sore thumb,” said Dion Reynolds, Lac du Flambeau’s chief operating officer.
When people were forced to work and go to school from home at the start of the pandemic, many people on the reservation found they couldn’t even send an email because of spotty internet service.
Reynolds said tribal officials first reached out to the only internet provider in the rural area of northern Wisconsin.
But he said the company didn’t have a plan to address the situation and he didn’t feel the reservation was priority service area for the company.
The 86,600-acre reservation is primarily in Vilas County in northern Wisconsin.
Reynolds said the industry standard for internet is to have at least 25 megabytes of download speed and three megabytes of upload speed, and service on the reservation is nowhere near that.
“A majority of our members are not able to reach those speeds,” Reynolds said. “Some are close to dial-up speeds.”
He said many people on the Lac du Flambeau reservation simply use their cell phones as mobile hot spots to connect.
Tribal officials started researching federal grants that would fund the installation of broadband internet infrastructure on the reservation.
“When the grant became available, we already had the research in place to apply,” Reynolds said.
This fall, the tribe announced it received a $25.6 million grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce to construct the broadband system. It will be owned and operated by the tribe.
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“This is a game-changer for the community and the Northwoods,” said LDF President John D. Johnson Sr.