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March 4, 2021

2/8/2021 11:45:00 AM
Badger Project explains where state is on broadband internet

More help might be on the way for those in Wisconsin with snaillike internet.
After a tough 2020 in which many students endured remote learning and adults had to work from home, Gov. Tony Evers declared 2021 "The Year of Broadband Access" in his State of the State speech earlier this month. He proposed $200 million in state grants for the expansion of high-speed internet and aid for poor residents to pay for it.
In the nation's capital, Congress squeezed $3.2 billion into the huge December pandemic relief bill to help more people get high-speed internet.
Evers' proposal would be a significant increase in state spending for broadband. He is essentially asking the legislature, which writes the budget, to give $150 million to private companies, cooperatives and municipalities to provide high-speed internet to residents who don't already have it.
The governor also proposed $40 million for helping low-income residents pay for broadband.
At least one Republican legislator seemed open to the spending, but expressed concerns about the source of those funds. Still in the grips of the pandemic, the state of Wisconsin is facing a nearly $400 million funding gap in the upcoming two-year budget. Unlike the federal government, the state government can not run a budget deficit.
In 2021, a need, not a luxury
High-speed internet access is an especially serious problem for rural communities in the state.
The federal government defines broadband as 25 megabits per second of download speed and 3 mbps of upload speed, a standard that rapidly developing technology is overtaking, experts say.
Wisconsin's Broadband Expansion Grant program lacks a minimum speed requirement, but the Public Service Commission, which funds projects in a competitive format, gives preference to applicants who pledge to deliver important features such as covering unserved areas, providing higher speeds, making their own financial investment and offering scalable projects, PSC spokesman Jerel Ballard said.
Some critics say the state needs to do more.
"Wisconsin must recognize that subsidized networks have to be accountable to the communities they serve and (the state) should only give money to networks that use technologies that will stand the test of time," said Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative, a Minnesota-based think tank that helps communities with their telecommunications.
Mitchell estimated that current needs are at 100 mbps download by 20 mbps upload. In a few years, that need will jump to 200 mbps by 100 mbps, he said.
"Not everyone needs that," he added, "but many residents and most businesses do."
Using the federal standard of 25 mbps by 3 mbps, the FCC estimates that about 22% of rural Wisconsinites and about 15% of tribal lands in Wisconsin lack access to fixed broadband, according to a report released earlier this month....
(See the rest of the story in the February 4, 2021 Chronicle issue)

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