Monday, June 26, 2023

Wisconsin rural broadband upgraded due to Dems in DC, with no help from GOP reps at the State.

Here's some good news if you're in one of the far-too-many Wisconsin communities where the Internet isn't up to snuff.

Wisconsin will receive more than $1 billion in federal funds to expand broadband as part of a sweeping infrastructure bill signed into law in 2021, Democratic President Joe Biden's administration announced Monday.

The announcement comes less than a month after the Legislature's GOP-controlled budget committee rejected Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' request to spend $750 million in state funds to expand broadband, citing the incoming federal dollars....

Wisconsin is receiving $1.055 billion for broadband — an amount greater than all but 15 states and territories. All Wisconsin Democrats in Congress voted for the bill and all Wisconsin Republicans voted against it.
Keep that last sentence in mind when you read this tweet from a longtime WisGOP strategist.

McCoshen is saying it's a good thing that WisGOPs in the Legislature didn't use any state dollars....because Democrats in DC stepped up to do something that Republicans in DC never would. Apparently it's only Democrats that can and do things that benefit the average Wisconsinite, and that McCoshen thinks Scott Walker should have taken the $23 million in rural broadband funds that Scotty turned down from the Obama Administration a dozen years ago. Noted!

If you look at the Legislative Fiscal Bureau's report on the state's broadband programs and needs, the $1.055 billion is on the high end of what was expected to be coming on our way.
Additional funding in the 2023-25 biennium is expected from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which created the Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program. Nationwide, $42.5 billion is provided for broadband deployment under BEAD, consisting of a minimum of $100 million for each state, with the remainder allocated based on the state's proportion of unserved locations, determined by maps created by the FCC, and 10% set aside for certain high-cost unserved locations. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the administrator for BEAD, has indicated BEAD's first allocations to states will be made by June 30, 2023. PSC is anticipating a total allocation of approximately $700 million to $1.1 billion for Wisconsin.

IIJA also funds the Digital Equity program, which was created to target broadband adoption efforts towards specific communities. Targeted communities include households with low income or low literacy, the elderly, residents of rural areas, people of color, individuals with disabilities, English-language learners, veterans, and incarcerated individuals. The populations covered under DEA account for 79% of Wisconsin's total population. Funding for DEA will be distributed through three programs over five years: (a) planning grants for states to create digital equity plans that promote broadband availability and access by targeted groups, as well as digital literacy and privacy awareness; (b) capacity grants for states to implement digital equity plans; and (c) competitive grants to units of government and nonprofit or community institutions to increase broadband access and availability among targeted populations. PSC anticipates an allocation of approximately $24 to $30 million over five years. Award amounts will be determined following PSC's submittal of its digital equity plan in September, 2023.
The LFB adds that most of these federal grants for "broadband" Internet require a 100 Mpbs download/20 Mpbs upload speed, which is above the 25/3 levels that most state grants require. That was one reason given to supplement the federal infrastructure funds, but another is that Wisconsin's unique topography can make the extension of broadband a costly venture.
Due to the scale and complexity of such a goal, it is difficult to estimate the cost of providing service at speeds of 100/20 to all residents of Wisconsin. However, PSC staff estimate that the total cost could be perhaps $1.8 billion, the state share of which could be perhaps $800 million after assuming an allocation of $1 billion from BEAD. It should be noted this estimate reflects only the capital costs of broadband expansion, and does not include ongoing operational or maintenance costs. The wide range of the estimate reflects uncertainty and assumptions regarding a number of issues, including: (a) reliability of mapping data and estimates of access to broadband service; (b) increasing costs of expanding broadband service as overall access increases; and (c) availability and timing of federal funding provided for broadband expansion. Additionally, as stated above, BEAD criteria regarding 25/3 may assign lower priority to some areas that PSC determines as in need.

PSC also states that state funding would be helpful to supplement federal funding in Wisconsin's high-cost broadband deployment areas, including forests, granite bluffs and other undulating terrain. In areas where it may be particularly challenging to build necessary infrastructure, federal funding may not be sufficient, and a state contribution could leverage or match federal funding to complete difficult projects. Given the estimated capital costs needed to reach universal broadband access statewide, other state funding sources may not be sufficient to meet the policy goals of broadband expansion.....
But that isn't set to happen under the state budget that is scheduled to be taken up by the Legislature this week. But like several other items in the budget, there is always the possibility to demand more later. Or a new Legislature that will do at the state level what DC Dems have helped Wisconsin do with federal funds - bringing rural Wisconsin's communications into the 2020s (or at least the 2010s).

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