Fast Internet for All in Wisconsin is at your fingertips | Editorial

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Thanks to bipartisan support, Wisconsin has made significant progress in expanding high-speed Internet in rural areas.

It is important and reassuring.

The state provided $170 million in broadband expansion grants in its last two budgets, bringing fast connections to more than 300,000 homes and businesses, according to Gov. Tony Evers.

The Democratic governor deserves credit for directing $100 million in federal stimulus funds last year toward this effort. He also declared 2021 “the year of broadband access“, which added the necessary urgency. The Republican-led Legislature included $125 million for better service in the latest state budget, which was less than what the governor was proposing but still strong.

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Yet 22% of rural Wisconsin — about 385,000 people — still lacked access to quality broadband service, according to a 2021 report from the Federal Communications Commission. And a private study last year suggested that figure was closer to 650,000 people. The lack of more than one internet service provider in many communities is also of concern, reducing competition and increasing costs.

Our state and local governments must redouble their efforts this year to ensure that all regions of the state, regardless of location or wealth, have similar access to the digital economy. Wisconsin still ranks below the national average for coverage.


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President Joe Biden announced additional federal aid on Friday. Thanks to the bipartisan $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill that was finally approved by Congress last fall, Washington will free up $45 billion for broadband. Biden’s exciting goal is to ensure that every US resident has high-speed internet access by 2028. It won’t be easy. Biden’s Commerce Secretary estimates that 30 million people across the country still don’t have access.

But each state is guaranteed at least $100 million, and the average state will get about $800 million. Some of the money can subsidize services for the poor, including in urban areas.

This makes the goal of universal coverage achievable, as long as elected officials are flexible, creative and cooperative.

Fast digital connections can be the difference between opening a business in a rural area or moving on. It can make or break product sales to customers all over the world. Fast, reliable internet can draw urban dwellers to smaller towns and keep more young people in their hometowns. This facilitates remote work. This can facilitate online lessons and assignments, which were more difficult for rural students during the pandemic. It can promote video appointments with healthcare providers and connect readers to the latest news.

Broadband internet is a necessity in the modern world, just like electricity or running water. This will help keep our state and our nation competitive.

Even some Dane County residents who live near Madison lack fast digital connections. One problem is that grants to help pay for better service sometimes depend on internet speeds in an entire region. In Madison, fast internet and competition between service providers is abundant. But it can make it difficult for people living in pockets of poor service to qualify for help.


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This must change. Heads of state should also avoid pitting one region against another when deciding who gets grants first.

Another challenge is the need for more trained technicians to install broadband. Blocked supply chains have limited access to fiber optic cable. Satellite service, wireless and mobile data offer alternative solutions. Local governments should be open to allowing towers.

Wisconsin is getting closer to full coverage with more competition. The public and private sectors must continue to work to get the job done.

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