Tuesday, July 12, 2016

GOP's "Stick it to Obama" pose on broadband kept rural Wisconsin behind

Another day and a look at the state's news sites have more stories how the shortsighted decisions of Wisconsin GOP elected officials to suck up to oligarchs and pose against the Obama Administration continue to leave this state behind. You may recall that the Walker Administration turned down $23 million in 2011 that would have gone toward establishing more broadband capability in underserved areas of Wisconsin, particularly in schools, libraries, and for emergency response communications.

I want to go back over that decision, and take a look at the lame reasoning they gave back then.
But state taxpayers would have been on the hook for the entire $23 million if the state could not meet the grant's precise requirements, Mike Huebsch, secretary of the state Department of Administration, said in a memo to school and library associations.

"This is simply not an acceptable risk," Huebsch wrote.

Wisconsin received the grant [in 2010] from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. It was part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which included about $7 billion in grants, loans and loan guarantees to extend broadband to underserved rural areas and was compatible with President Barack Obama's goal of making high-speed Internet available to 98% of Americans by 2016.

The money would have been used for the BadgerNet Converged Network, which brings the Internet to schools, libraries, and state and local government agencies. It would have paid for 200 miles of fiber-optic cable, improving the Internet connections at hundreds of public facilities.

BadgerNet, however, runs on infrastructure owned and managed primarily by AT&T Inc. - and that became a sticking point with federal officials who were not used to public-private partnerships, according to the state.
Let's leave aside the fact that the Walker Administration was paying back favors to AT&T more than having any kind of principled, reasoned decision, and discuss where the state's coverage is today. 5 years later, take a look at the rumblings that are coming from Western Wisconsin, where broadband telecommunications access is still sparse in many places.
Audience members voiced frustration over years of discussion on broadband with still no foreseeable developments.

“I have received more calls on this than anything else put together,” said Michael Kahlow, a Pierce County Board supervisor and chair of the Information Services committee. He described some of the language callers use as “colorful.”

Lack of broadband access can reduce the property value of a house in Pierce County by $10,000 or more, he added. “That’s a real substantial impact.”
The situation is so dire and improvements are so needed that both of Wisconsin’s U.S. Senators are in a rare moment of agreement in asking federal agencies to make broadband more accessible.
Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin are among 26 senators to sign onto a letter, sent Monday, encouraging the FCC to use its Mobility Fund to develop and improve mobile broadband service in underserved rural and agricultural areas.

The fund is part of the FCC's Universal Service Fund, collected essentially as a user fee on phone bills. It was designed to help wireless carriers cover the cost of bring service to rural areas. The commission is considering changes along with the question of whether the fund is needed at all.

The senators argue it is necessary, noting in particular how important broadband service is for farmers and ranchers….

"The expansion of rural broadband should be a top priority of federal and state policymakers, as expanded deployment in rural areas will address important economic, educational, health care and public safety goals," the letter reads.
The Walker Administration has finally taken some steps in recent years to remedy these broadband gaps, setting up a Broadband Expansion Grant Program in the 2013-15 budget and currently giving $1.5 million a year to give “reimbursement for equipment and construction expenses incurred to extend or improve broadband telecommunications service in underserved areas of the state.” But way too little and far too late. That $1.5 million in state funds pales in comparison to the $23 million in federal funds in 2011, and the federal funds didn’t require state tax dollars to match.

Take a look at this article from a Walker propaganda stop in Viroqua last week. In addition to reporting on a crowd of protestors who ripped Walker for avoiding the public in the “listening session”, check out what’s going on across the river to our west, as we break out the party hats for adding $1.5 million of broadband.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has budgeted $20 million to improve broadband in the Gopher State, and he advocates spending another $100 million from the state’s surplus.

Attending the press conference was Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse. She also welcomed Broadband Forward’s certification measures.

“It streamlines the application process so communities will know how and where to apply,” Shilling said.

However, the measure “is not nearly enough” to meet Wisconsin residents’ needs, she said.
This is how the Walker folks roll, with short-term “win the day” headlines and political stances that might get the approval of talk radio and dimwitted dead-enders who want to stick it to those smarty-pants Dems. But those poses haven’t made life in Wisconsin any better, and it has left this state behind while other places that accepted the federal investments grow, and have much more stable budgets on top of it.

It is very reminiscent of another stupid Walker pose on a stimulus project, where he and his talk radio allies encouraged the Wisconsin DOT to turn down over $800 million for a high-speed rail line connecting Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago. That line would be up and running today if not for the Walker boys and Koch/ALEC crew striking a pose against Obama, and instead millions of state dollars have been spent in recent years to upgrade rail lines while hundreds of millions of other state dollars have to be borrowed to fix Wisconsin’s roads.

And now we end up spending more for investments like broadband in later years to remedy problems that could have been fixed 5 years had ago had the WisGOP crew just been smart enough to shut up and take the money from DC. Had enough of this, yet?


  1. On another note this quote about Wisconsin from the CNBC top states for business "Wisconsin, dealing with some self-inflicted budget woes, including revenue shortfalls that forced Gov. Scott Walker to delay a $100 million debt payment last month, slips eight spots to 23rd place

  2. If the DPW can somehow figure out how to make this a major campaign issue, they would start winning in rural Wisconsin again. This isn't a problem the "free market" is going to solve.

    1. Completely correct. It's the rural electrification of the 21st Century, and the Walker Administration willfully kept the state behind in order to gain...what?

      Why should rural areas be behind when it comes to available communications? That's not economically competitive, and it's yet another barrier put up for a part of the country that already is up against it when it comes to getting talent and firms to locate there.