Broadband More Crucial Than Ever
I was first elected to the state Assembly in 2014. It’s now six years later, and one thing hasn’t changed—there are still too many folks in Northern Wisconsin without internet access.
I’m sure those of us living in rural areas can tell similar stories of spotty internet or fighting to get any connection at all. Frankly, I think people are getting a little sick of talking about it, but we can’t just leave it alone. For most Americans, everyday living in the 21st century depends on reliable broadband infrastructure.
At a listening session last year, I heard the story of a couple whose son wanted to live near his parents and start his company. He found he couldn’t live in his hometown and run his business due to insufficient internet access. Northern Wisconsin lost a young man who wanted to be close to home, raise a family and add to the local economy. We need to have this infrastructure so all communities across Northern Wisconsin can grown and thrive.
As if we weren’t already hurting from the lack of high-speed internet, COVID-19 hit us. The global pandemic has not just taken lives, but it has also exposed existing inequities and made them worse, like access to reliable broadband between rural and urban areas.
Right now, there are folks who can only see their grandkids through video chatting. There are those suffering from mental illness who could really benefit from online counseling since there are no mental health professionals in their county. There are people who could save the long drive and not risk infection with a telehealth visit with their doctor from the comfort of home. School districts are trying to balance safety and education when making reopening plans, but at the end of the day, what are their options if not all of their students can access online learning?
Even people who want to do the right thing and limit their outings have a far easier time with reliable internet, from grocery delivery to virtual parties. The isolation of rural living and quarantine are both made easier with a good connection.
I’m glad to report that there is progress being made. As the ranking Democrat on the Assembly Committee on Energy and Utilities, as well as recently being appointed to serve on the Governor’s Taskforce on Broadband, I will always make sure that the concerns and issues surrounding broadband availability in the 74th Assembly District are being heard in Madison. The latest budget was a tremendous step forward—Governor Evers made the largest investment in broadband expansion in our state’s history. In 2020, Wisconsin utility regulators awarded $24 million in grants to help bring high-speed internet service to underserved communities.
As a part of this investment, $24 million in 2021 broadband expansion grants will be available to underserved areas. Applications will be available next month starting September 1st, and I encourage you to check out the Wisconsin Public Service Commission website for more details. Please do not hesitate to contact my office regarding the grant proposal process.
Available and affordable means to get online is absolutely crucial. Internet access is no longer a luxury, but a necessity, and I won’t stop until every household from Bayfield to Beloit has adequate broadband. Our future depends on it.
For those with questions or concerns, they are encouraged to reach out to Rep. Beth Meyers office by calling 888-534-0074 or emailing Rep.Meyers@legis.wisconsin.gov.