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Company wraps up fiber-optic work

People see the Baldwin Telecom, Inc., vans at various places on the north end of River Falls and may wonder what's happening.

The company is finishing two projects it started last year in the area.

The growing Internet services provider out of Baldwin not only started a major grant-fueled expansion project in the town Troy, but also bought a dormant network the city owned in the Whitetail Ridge Corporate Park.

BTI's General Manager Matt Sparks says both projects lack only a small amount of work to be finished.

The company has completed the in-ground work at Whitetail Ridge but is still testing the fiber drop for each business. This is the point of connectivity to the newly refurbished fiber-optic network.

Sparks said of the business park, "We actually do have a couple of live customers for some services."

Those services, according to Sparks, fall into one of three categories: Video, phone and data/Internet.

He says those services were available to people in the area before BTI came, but they weren't at the high speeds people want.

River Falls approached BTI about buying 1.93 route miles of fiber-optic network established in 2004 for Whitetail Ridge Corporate Park residents, who later upgraded to other networks.

The company bought the system for $30,000 last summer.

"One of the reasons Telecom was able to light up the (corporate) park was our Troy project," he said. "We put in 130 miles of fiber this summer."

Sparks refers to the major project happening in town of Troy where residents have sought broadband accessibility for years.

BTI applied for and won a $9 million stimulus grant through the USDA's Rural Utilities Service to install the expensive infrastructure needed to enable high-speed Internet.

Sparks said 800 customers have enrolled in Troy. He said the ditch-digging and major construction is finished, but there's still testing to be done in spring.

BTI established service one zone at a time and is mostly finished in all but two of 15 zones.

The general manager said customers seem "very happy" to have high-speed service.

Having that new network to which it could connect made it possible for BTI to also "hook up" the corporate park and some immediately adjacent areas, like across the highway inside the red-brick Hillside Plaza building.

"It's our closest zone to the city of River Falls," said Sparks, who said BTI does not provide services anywhere within the city limits.

The general manager says before that could be considered, BTI would need to build a communications "hut" within the city, requiring city approval and a large investment on the company's part.

BTI started in 1900 providing service for the Baldwin-Woodville telephone exchange.

Today it provides the three prongs of video/telephone/data service in its original service area plus Hammond, Hudson including its business park, Knapp, Roberts, Troy and some places in the northern tip of River Falls.

Learn more about BTI and see maps and status reports on the Troy project at