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Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers Announces Broadband Task Force

The Task Force on Broadband Access will advise state leadership on the actions and policies needed to promote high-speed Internet access. The group includes representatives from the private and public sectors.

by Mitchell Schmidt, The Wisconsin State Journal / July 15, 2020
Shutterstock/Randy Kostichka

(TNS) — A newly created task force aims to develop a plan to connect every home, business and institution in the state with affordable high speed Internet, Gov. Tony Evers announced Tuesday.

The Governor's Task Force on Broadband Access will advise Evers and the state Legislature on future broadband actions and policy. It will include strategies for expanding high speed Internet across the state, initiatives for digital inclusion and strategies for affordable broadband for all communities in Wisconsin.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored that access to high-speed broadband is a necessity, not a luxury, and folks across our state have had to adapt—from kids and educators shifting to virtual classrooms, workers having to work from home, and even folks using telemedicine to visit with their doctor,” Evers said in a statement.

The Federal Communications Commission lists 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload speeds as the benchmark for high-speed Internet or “advanced broadband.”

The FCC's 2020 Broadband Deployment Report found that 7.1% of Wisconsin residents lack access to at least one broadband provider, compared with the national average of 5.6%. In rural Wisconsin, more than one in every four residents lack access to even one high speed provider.

“In many cases, the hardest part of getting access to all is finding ways to connect that last half-mile — sometimes literally down country roads and driveways to homes and businesses,” state Public Service Commission chairwoman Becky Valcq said in a statement.

The task force includes representatives in economic development, education, communications, utilities and cooperatives and planning, as well as four state lawmakers.

Late last month, Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. released a report with three recommendations to rebuild the state's economy, including the expansion of Wisconsin's broadband network.

In June, WEDC Secretary Melissa Hughes told the Wisconsin State Journal that substantial investment in the state’s broadband infrastructure is necessary in order to support growing programs at K-12 and higher education institutions, as well as a growing network of individuals working from home amid the pandemic.

The agency recommends increased funding for broadband expansion with a focus on school districts where children do not have access to high-speed Internet.

“Fixing broadband in Wisconsin is not a moon shot; it’s not insurmountable,” according to the report. “But it is critical to economic development and recovery and must happen now.”

In March, the PSC awarded $24 million in grants to help bring high-speed Internet service to underserved communities. Another $24 million is expected to be awarded next year.

©2020 The Wisconsin State Journal, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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