GOP Calls it Quits on Rural Broadband Expansion

MADISON – During Tuesday’s floor session, Senate Republicans passed Senate Bill 365, which makes sweeping changes to the Wisconsin Broadband Expansion Grant Program. This bill prioritizes improving speeds throughout Wisconsin instead of focusing solely on rural broadband expansion.

Sen. Smith (D-Brunswick) spoke out against this legislation. Below are excerpts from his speech:

“I thought a good way to start my comments on this bill is to quote a local cooperative president: ‘This bill is a solution in search of a problem.’ Now, I don’t want to drone on about the specific problems in this bill, but I do want to make sure you all understand what this means for broadband expansion in Wisconsin.

“Thanks to Governor Evers, we’ve come further in the last three years for broadband expansion than in the previous ten. Changing what is working is not a good way to cap off 2021 as the Year of Broadband.

“The Broadband Expansion Grant Program’s purpose was to help bridge the gap for companies that want to expand to an area that is less profitable. The grant program has helped companies defray the risk of their initial investment to connect new customers to better speeds.

“Mr. President, the program is working. Wisconsin is expanding broadband faster than we’ve ever done before. Don’t screw up a good thing!

“Mr. President, this bill says our priority can be continuing rural broadband expansion OR providing residents with super-fast speeds. When did the Broadband Expansion Grant Program become a program to juice up speeds instead of expansion? That is the effect of this bill.

“Expanding essential services like electricity and broadband in western Wisconsin isn’t for the weak-hearted, but it’s critical for parents to work, kids to keep up on their schooling and businesses to thrive.

“Mr. President, my message is simple, let’s not screw up a good thing, let’s get everyone connected by staying focused on broadband expansion for rural communities first and then focus on getting people super-fast internet.”