Budget committee funds ongoing rural broadband expansion projectA program expanding broadband in rural areas will continue to be funded and lawmakers hope more people will have access to high-speed Internet.
By: By Maureen McCollum, Wisconsin Public Radio, Superior Telegram
A program expanding broadband in rural areas will continue to be funded and lawmakers hope more people will have access to high-speed Internet.
According to the Federal Communications Commission, 23 percent of rural Wisconsinites do not have access to broadband internet.
Governor Scott Walker has previously stated he wants to change that. He recommended budget funds go towards the Broadband Expansion Grant Program. It would help expand high-speed Internet to areas that have no or little broadband access.
In the end, the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) approved $500,000 for the program annually, and a one-time payment of $4.3 million. Small businesses and some nonprofits could qualify for the grants, with priority given to groups who can match funds. The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin will now administer the program.
JFC member Sen. Jennifer Shilling (D-Oshkosh) says she would have liked the annual program budget to be higher, just as Governor Walker initially recommended. She says that would ensure funding for much needed infrastructure.
“Broadband is becoming a critical component of economic growth and business expansion. As we look at the state and look at a digital divide that is real, we need to make sure we can open many small communities to the abundance of new opportunities with broadband expansion.”
JFC Republican co-chairs Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) proposed the approved funding structure.
Governor Walker’s spokesman said in an email that the appropriated funds will help increase broadband across the state.