Minocqua’s newly-created Broadband and Business Development Committee held its second meeting Thursday since being created by the Minocqua Town Board and they dove into gathering information head first.
The committee heard a presentation and were able to ask questions of SonicNet President Lori Collins and Vice President Adam Holroyd, the company with which the town has been working with on providing broadband Internet service for town residents.
Committee members wanted to know what the company has been doing since they began working together and what plans they have for improving their broadband system.
In May 2010, the town board approved spending up to $50,000 for the construction of three 180-foot towers in the town that would provide wireless high speed Internet service to many area residents who could not be provided that service.
As part of the original deal, SonicNet of Phelp agreed to operate the system with the town receiving $1 a month from each SonicNet subscriber who uses the town’s towers. The money would help the town recoup the funds it invested in building and installing the towers.
The three towers, which cost about $15,000 each, were constructed near the town ice arena, the old Mercer Lake stump dump site and near the old town dump along Bo-di-lac Road.
According to figures provided by the town at an August town board meeting, as of Aug. 21 there were 134 subscribers using the three towers constructed by the town – far fewer than the town and SonicNet had expected, according Town Chairman Mark Hartzheim.
A March story in The Lakeland Times reported numbers below the August figures and that the town had no formal signed contract with SonicNet for their agreement.
Since that time SonicNet has upgraded equipment on multiple towers and is now offering 3 to 5Mbps speeds in many areas of the Minocqua network.
More subscribers in Minocqua
Collins told the committee there have been additional subscribers since the company upgraded parts of the SonicNet system.
“We’ve almost doubled our base in the last six months,” Collins said.
Collins also said SonicNet has begun offering a seven-month package for subscribers who do not stay in the area the entire year and even more recently they began offering a four-month package.
Collins said the company has had some subscribers stay longer than their seven- or four-month packages after asking if they could do so. She said they stayed in the area longer because they were able to use the broadband service the additional time they needed.
“We’ve never raised our rates and we don’t intend to,” Collins said. “We’ve also been able to cut our setup fee in half from $300 to $150.”
“We’ve tried to think outside the box as far as marketing, too,” Collins said.
Collins and Holroyd said trees and topography in the town are big reasons why many people in the town can’t get the service so more towers or equipment locations are needed.
DNR towers, locations
“DNR communications and fire towers could be good locations for placing equipment and improving service,” committee member Joe Hegge said. “I’ve been told by people like Bob Egan in Eagle River that those talks have gone nowhere.”
One such tower, the DNR Squirrel Hill tower, was cited as a location that could greatly increase the number of SonicNet subscribers in the area of Squirrel Lake if the DNR would allow their equipment to be located on it.
Committee members agreed they need to have more discussions with DNR officials, including DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp.
Committee members also briefly discussed the possibility of a new, taller tower, maybe as high as 300 feet, that could be built to replace the town’s tower near Gun Club Road and allow a better spread of the company’s signal and allow other companies to co-locate communications equipment.
A new tower being considered for approval by the county proposed by Verizon Wireless in the town could also be a new location for SonicNet equipment.
Hartzheim said SonicNet has established its niche as “the company going places that the big guys will never go.”
“Now we need to do our homework to see what we can do to help growth and broadband service,” committee chairman Pete Otis said.
Town Public Works Director Butch Welch asked Collings and Holroyd to provide him with a list of areas where the location of additional towers could make the service available to more subscribers. Some of the listed locations could dovetail with areas where the town has property on which a new tower could be located.
The committee agreed they should conduct an inventory of the existing broadband communications infrastructure in the town and come back with short- and long-term committee goals at the next committee meeting.
Committee members were also given copies of the proposed contract between the town and SonicNet that had not been signed by the town. Suggestions were sought on the contract and whether the town should sign the agreement.
Joe VanDeLaarschot may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.