Overwhelming Broadband Expansion Demand Shows Urgent Need

MADISON – This week, the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) announced they received 124 applications, totaling $62 million in the second round of funding for the State Broadband Expansion Grant program. During this second round of funding for the Broadband Expansion Grant program, only $24 million was available for applicants.

This funding to expand broadband in underserved areas of the state was made available after Governor Evers signed the 2019-2021 biennial budget allocating a total of $48 million toward broadband expansion grants. Initially, Governor Evers proposed $78 million in grants to improve broadband expansion efforts over the two-year period, but the Republican-led Joint Finance Committee eventually reduced this amount by $30 million.

Despite this setback, Governor Evers’ Administration continued prioritizing broadband expansion efforts through the biennium. Governor Evers established the Task Force on Broadband Access, bringing together lawmakers and stakeholders to develop innovative broadband expansion strategies. During the pandemic, Governor Evers directed $5 million from the federal CARES Act for additional broadband expansion grants.  

In addition to Governor Evers’ efforts, Senator Smith (D-Brunswick) plans to re-introduce his “Better Broadband” legislative package in the upcoming session. Senator Smith introduced this legislative package in January 2020; Republicans failed to hold a public hearing on any of these legislative proposals to improve broadband expansion in Wisconsin.

Senator Jeff Smith shared the following statement in response to the applications PSC received earlier this week for the second round of grant funding.

“This announcement confirms what we already know: Wisconsin needs broadband internet access now more than ever. $24 million is a start, but we still have a long way to go before rural communities have reliable, high-speed internet.

“Republicans stripping away broadband expansion funds from Governor Evers’ budget was the wrong move. All of these projects present opportunities for rural communities to thrive; it’s a shame that communities are pitted against each other for these limited funds.

“Governor Evers is holding his People’s Budget listening sessions right now. Help him convince Republicans that broadband expansion is critical for rural Wisconsin by submitting testimony today.  I hope Republicans decide not to leave rural Wisconsin behind again. This time, Republicans must follow Governor Evers’ lead to adequately fund the Broadband Expansion Grant program.”

Wisconsinites interested in helping craft the 2021-23 People's Budget can submit a written public comment about the importance of broadband expansion grant funding here: https://evers.wi.gov/Pages/BudgetListeningSessions.aspx.