Waupaca Online expands service
11 new towers planned in rural areas
By James Card
Waupaca Online, the local internet service provider, is expanding its reach deep into the eastern side of Waupaca County.
Eleven new towers will be erected this winter and will be operational by spring if construction is not hindered by weather conditions.
The towers will be located on public land at the Waupaca County Processing Transfer Facility in Manawa, the county highway shop in Marion, county land at County Trunk X and Hatton Road in Weyauwega, Caledonia Town Hall, the Caledonia park at Bean City Road, DuPont Town Hall, Union Town Hall, the ballpark in Symco, Lebanon Town Hall, Mukwa Town Hall and the closed landfill in Dayton.
The towers will be owned by the county and leased to Waupaca Online.
They will be 120-175 feet tall and will look similar to the broadband tower next to the water towers on Mount Tom in Waupaca.
In order to receive this internet service it is necessary to be located within sight of the tower.
Unlike radio or TV signals with long wavelengths and a lower frequency that can be picked up just about anywhere, transmitting broadband is different as the frequency is higher and the wavelengths are shorter, meaning objects in the direct path will break up the signal.
Tall trees and rolling hills do not work well with this type of service and some residents who live in the rural areas of Waupaca County may have trouble getting a signal.
If a backwoods homeowner is not within the tower’s line of sight, they may still get internet through the help of nearby neighbors.
An expanding network of smaller towers help expand broadband further into the countryside.
Within the network around the city of Waupaca, there are more than 30 mini towers.
Waupaca Online has worked with private property owners to rig antennas atop farm silos and other tall structures such as obsolete TV antennas.
“It’s kind of a neighbors-helping-neighbors sort of thing. There are some people that come out of the woodwork and say I’ve got a silo, would it be useful? And sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t,” said Joshua Werner, the technology director for the city of Waupaca.
Some have even built their own towers, such as Silver Mist Garden Center located south of King. In return for use of the structure, the property owner gets either free or discounted internet service and neighbors within the line-of-sight of that tower can also gain internet service.
The device has two antennas – one that faces another tower to receive the broadband and another to transmit the broadband into homes within the line of sight of the tower.
A box below the antenna is a control unit and Waupaca Online will work with the landowner to get an electrical line run out to the box if needed.
“When COVID started, we quickly found the bottlenecks in our network. Suddenly overnight, people were working and studying from home. Within two weeks, we got that corrected,’ said Werner.
He and his staff upgraded some equipment and experimented on how they could maximize download speeds. Now they have speeds up to 25 Megabits per second (Mgps).
“That was something we weren’t able to do two years ago,” he said.
Looking at the data, Werner found the average household will use 10-20 Mgps.
As an experiment, he upgraded one antenna so it could handle 50 Mgps. The households receiving internet from this tower were not informed of this boost. Werner found that the internet usage barely went up.
He compares it to expanding the number of lanes on U.S. Highway 10 – maybe that might be handy on Packer game days but other than that, those lanes will go unused. It is the same for higher broadband capacity. Occasionally, it is useful for huge downloads but it does not make much of a difference on an everyday basis.
“It’s adequate for 98 percent of households,” said Werner, referring to the 25 Mgps speed.
Since part of this expansion is funded through a Community Development Block Grant, a special pricing tier for low-income households will be available. Other households will be in the “extended area” tier with rates starting at $50 per month.