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Wisconsin Lawmakers Introduce Rural Broadband Bill

Like many other rural citizens, those living in rural parts of Wisconsin are making their voices heard in their state legislature to get equal access to Internet.

(TNS) -- A bill that circulated Tuesday in the state Legislature would allocate millions in broadband internet funding to rural areas, which for area rural students and their families might mean easier access to online homework.

“We’ve tried to make more time in the school day for them to get their work done here,” said Paul Schley, superintendent and principal of Cornell Elementary School, who estimates that 40 percent of Cornell school district students have no internet access at home. “Rather than have more instruction, they have more time to get their work done. I’d like to see that reversed.”

Rep. Romaine Quinn, R-Rice Lake, and Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, announced the $15.5 million bill after Gov. Scott Walker formally proposed his two-year budget last week, which included $35 million for broadband. The bill, Quinn said, is a continuation of last year’s call for broadband funding and better defines allocation priorities.

Quinn said potential broadband projects would be measured by their ability to promote growth or retention in a rural area, whether they duplicate existing infrastructure or increase home access to health care and education.

“With these considerations in place,” Quinn said Tuesday via Facebook Live, “we will ensure that we are responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars and that we are maximizing our investment.”

For Cornell school district students, that investment could mean the technology they use at school would better transfer to their home life.

All middle and high school students have access to computers and Chromebooks at school, Schley said, and they spend most of their day using technology for learning purposes. Most of their homework requires internet access, he said. Upper elementary school students spend about 45 minutes a day on computers, he said.

Schley said he can’t be sure how much this bill would help his students’ access to internet until more specific details — such as funding per student — are released.

Andrea Hakes, an administrative assistant in the Cornell school district, has no internet connection at home and one daughter enrolled in high school. To get around the internet access barrier at home, she said, her daughter either uses a mobile hotspot or returns to school for the connection.

“It would take the bills down a little bit for cellphones,” Hakes said of a potential increase in internet access. “I think a lot of families in rural areas are making choices between their phones and internet, if you’re looking at costs and being able to afford one for your student and for yourself.”

©2017 the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.