By: Annabella Rosciglione, The Daily Cardinal
Democratic lawmakers introduced new legislature Monday to invest millions of dollars to expand access to broadband in rural Wisconsin.
The Better Broadband legislative package would provide $100 million dollars for investment into the expansion of broadband throughout the state, along with higher quality mapping to assist the Public Service Commission with the subsequent grant applications.
In 2019, 486,000 rural Wisconsinites lacked access to broadband service — about 28 percent of Wisconsin’s rural population — according to the Federal Trade Commission.
Sen. Patty Schachtner, D-Somerset, and other leaders behind the proposal emphasized how a lack of internet access can impact agricultural economy.
“Without reliable internet access, our small family farmers don’t have access to the latest agricultural technology or marketing and outreach opportunities that can support their farm’s viability,” Schachtner said.
The Map Accuracy and Investment bill, also included inside the Better Broadband package, would allow electric companies to be reimbursed for taking customer surveys of their broadband service.
Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, stated that outdated maps have caused Wisconsin’s broadband to “lag behind other states,” and believes this bill could help speed up the implementation.
“By focusing on improving our broadband mapping accuracy, we can ensure the Public Service Commission has the information it needs to maximize its reach and work towards connecting every home and business in Wisconsin,” Shankland said.
Sen. Jeff Smith, D-Brunswick, hoped the Truth and Advertising bill — which requires providers to advertise their service as being broadband only if it meets a certain download speed requirement — will help rural farmers who previously received slower service.
“At almost every event I attend, the constituents I talk to feel shortchanged by companies promising internet service and failing to provide broadband speeds,” Smith said. “We must improve our program and invest if rural communities are going to join the digital age.”