Republicans Turn Year of Broadband into Years of Borrowing

MADISONDespite historic amounts of revenue available to Wisconsin, Republican Joint Finance Committee (JFC) members scaled back Governor Tony Evers’ proposed investments for broadband expansion.

During their latest committee hearing, the Republican-led JFC rejected Governor Tony Evers’ proposal to invest $200 million toward broadband expansion, instead voting to borrow $125 million. Republicans’ decision will cost the state $35 million in interest payments over 20 years, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB).

Recent reports indicate statewide broadband expansion in Wisconsin would cost as much as $1.4 billion. With the $4.4 billion in new revenue Wisconsin is expected to bring in as a result of the robust economic recovery and $2.5 billion in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding, there is immediate opportunity to improve broadband access throughout the state.

Sen. Jeff Smith (D – Brunswick) released the following statement in response:

“We could fully expand broadband throughout Wisconsin, but Republicans refuse to get the job done. Their decision to borrow broadband expansion funds is absolutely baffling, especially coming out of a year when internet access was so crucial and we now have the money to do it. Republicans’ proposal is a slap in the face to our rural communities.

“Governor Evers declared 2021 the Year of Broadband Access to connect our communities, yet Republicans are more interested in saddling our state with years of debt for broadband expansion. The $35 million we would pay in interest for borrowing could fully expand broadband in some of our most underserved counties. We can’t afford to wait on Republicans to take broadband expansion seriously. We need to get this done today!”