Wisconsin Launches Internet Hotline for COVID-19 Service

Callers can talk with the Public Service Commission’s consumer affairs division, which will help explain what Internet and phone service is available and help assess eligibility for communication services discounts.

(TNS) — A week after launching an online map of free wireless internet sites, Wisconsin regulators have set up a phone line to help people find service during the COVID-19 coronavirus health emergency.

Callers can talk with members of the Public Service Commission’s consumer affairs division, who will help explain what internet and phone service is available in their area and help assess eligibility for discounts on communication services.

PSC Chair Rebecca Valcq calls the line a “one-stop shop” for people in need of essential services while schools and most businesses are closed.

Hotline operators can also direct callers to emergency Wi-Fi spots at local schools, libraries and other public places.

The hotline — (608) 267-3595 — will be staffed weekdays between 7:45 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Callers can leave messages after hours.

Last week, the PSC launched an interactive map (available at maps.psc.wi.gov/apps/PublicWiFiLocations) of more than 450 identified open Wi-Fi connections, many of which are in schools, libraries or other public buildings that are physically closed.

About 8.7% of all Wisconsin residents — and more than 28% of those in rural areas — do not have access to broadband service, according to a 2019 report by the Federal Communications Commission.

Last month, the PSC approved $24 million in grants to help bring high-speed internet service to underserved communities. Gov. Tony Evers has asked the Legislature to spend another $20 million on broadband expansion in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, although the GOP-controlled Legislature did not include it in bills approved last week.

©2020 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.