Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Walker's pathetic propaganda on broadband expansion recalls earlier screwup

Nearly 6 years ago, Scott Walker turned down $23 million from the Obama Administration that would have paid for rural and underserved areas of the state to expand broadband capacity A broadband expansion program that HAD NO COST TO THE STATE REQUIRED, may I remind you.

Well, now that Wisconsin has badly lagged the rest of the country in job growth and economic competitiveness due to this type of foolishness, Scotty is trying to make people forget about that blunder and is posing as someone who is “adding new investments for the work force" as part of his campaign events travels around the state the day after the State of the State address.
Investing in Wisconsin’s broadband infrastructure by providing an additional $35.5 million for the Broadband Expansion Grant Program. These funds will bring Governor Walker’s total investment in broadband to $52 million.
As someone who actually pays attention and can remember things for more than a few days, it’s pathetic to see Walker trying to sell this as some kind of new idea. He’s merely reiterating his support for a bill that was proposed last month which redirects already-existing funds under the state’s Universal Service Fund (which you pay on your cable and cell phone bills).
The bill makes changes to funding for grants made by the PSC for constructing broadband infrastructure in underserved areas. Under current law, $6,000,000 was transferred from the universal service fund (USF) for making the grants, but current law also limits the total grants made in a fiscal year to $1,500,000. The bill eliminates that limit. The bill also provides additional funding for the grants by doing the following: 1) transferring an additional $6,000,000 from the USF; 2) transferring $5,000,000 from moneys received under a federal program for assisting schools and libraries in obtaining telecommunications services and Internet access, which is commonly known as the federal e-rate program; and 3) at the end of each fiscal year, transferring the unencumbered balances from other USF-funded appropriations. Also, beginning in fiscal year 2017-18, the bill allows the PSC to fund its administration of the broadband grant program from contributions made by telecommunications providers to the USF.

During fiscal year 2016-17, the bill allows the PSC to allocate a portion of the funding provided under the bill to make the grants described above to telecommunications utilities that are receiving support for broadband deployment under certain federal programs administered by the Federal Communication Commission. During that fiscal year, the bill allows the PSC to evaluate applications and award the grants to those telecommunications utilities on an expedited basis…

TEACH program

Under current law, the TEACH program offers telecommunications access to school districts, private schools, cooperative educational service agencies, technical college districts, independent charter school authorizers, juvenile correctional facilities, private and tribal colleges, and public library boards at discounted rates and by subsidizing the cost of installing data lines and video links. As part of the TEACH program, DOA awards information technology block grants to school districts to improve information technology infrastructure. Under current law, the Information technology block grant program ends on July 1, 2017. This bill delays the sunset of the information technology block grant program until July 1, 2019. In addition, the bill authorizes DOA to award an additional round of information technology block grants before July 1, 2017. The eligibility for these grants is expanded to include school districts that have up to 26 pupils per square mile.

These grants are in addition to any grants a school district may have already received under the program during the 2015-17 biennium and therefore do not count towards the maximum amount a school district may receive in a biennium. The bill also consolidates the appropriations for TEACH contracts into a single 2017 - 2018 Legislature appropriation. Finally, in fiscal year 2016-17, the bill transfers $7,500,000 of moneys received under the federal e-rate program to the consolidated appropriation for TEACH contracts.
I’m not denying this is better than nothing (especially since nothing is mostly what we got from Walker and WisGOP on rural broadband until last year). But this is merely a one-time money-grab that takes advantage of the fact that the Universal Service Fund’s balance has grown from $5.55 million at the end of Fiscal Year 2014 to nearly $14.6 million at the end of Fiscal Year 2016 (figures courtesy of the state’s Annual Fiscal Report).

Also, is anyone else bothered that Walker was flying around the state at taxpayer expense and taking along Public Service Commissioner/GOP hack Ellen Nowak with him to try to sell this broadband plan? Especially when the PSC’s own Twitter site was using Walker talking points on this issue today, while still claiming on that same site that it is an “independent, regulatory agency dedicated to serving the public interest”? The PSC is openly supporting GOP proposals that aren’t law, and they have no business making taxpayer-funded campaign stops/photo ops with the Guv. It is garbage and beneath the "Public Service" Commission.

And lastly, given that there won’t be $14.6 million left over in the USF for 2018 or 2019 due to this “newfound” initiative, and the Feds have to sign off on using these TEACH program dollars, are these investments even going to happen after the promises are made? And with the TEACH program gone in two years, tell me where is the money going to come from to take care of future online infrastructure needs? Guess that’s something Scotty doesn’t want you or the media to think about, he just thinks he can cynically grab a one-day poser headline to make people forget about his years of neglect and failure.

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