Gov. Tony Evers is directing more than $5 million in federal pandemic relief money to fund expansion of high-speed internet service.

Evers' office announced Wednesday, Sept. 23, that a portion of the roughly $2 billion awarded to Wisconsin through the CARES Act will be awarded next month to projects passed over for the last round of state broadband expansion grants.

"This pandemic further illustrates the need for additional funding to expand broadband," Evers said in a written statement. "These dollars, along with our investments from the budget that I signed last year, will ensure that we are maximizing our expansion efforts to get folks connected."

To qualify, projects will have to be able to connect customers by Dec. 30 and meet requirements of the federal law. It's not clear what happens to the funding if projects can't be completed by that deadline. A spokeswoman for the governor's office referred questions to the PSC, which did not immediately respond Wednesday.

The Public Service Commission in March awarded $24 million in grants to support 72 projects from a list of 143 applications requesting a total of more than $50 million.

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The agency is accepting applications now for another $24 million that will be available next year through the state budget.

Commissioners acknowledged an unmet demand in a state where more than half a million people do not have access to high-speed internet, defined as download speeds of at least 25Mbps.

Wisconsin lags the national average, with roughly 8.7% of the state's population lacking broadband access, according to the Federal Communications Commission. The problem is most acute in rural areas, where about 28% of the population lack service.

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