Wisconsin will distribute a record $125 million this year to help expand access to high-speed Internet service, depleting most of the funds set aside in the state’s current budget over two years.
Gov. Tony Evers, who is up for re-election this fall, announced Thursday that he would release an additional $25 million on top of the $100 million previously announced for this year’s round of broadband access grants.
“I have promised to work to ensure that every Wisconsin resident has access to high-quality, high-speed Internet, and our State Broadband Expansion Grant program is one of the fastest and the most effective ways we have to achieve this,” Evers said in a statement. announcing the additional funding.
The Public Service Commission is expected to choose recipients later this summer from nearly 200 applications seeking more than $495 million in public funding.
With the latest round of awards, the state will have handed out some $346.6 million in the nine years since the broadband subsidy program launched.
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Nearly two-thirds of that funding will have been spent in the past two years, including $100 million awarded last year of the approximately $2.5 billion in federal pandemic relief provided to Wisconsin through the American Rescue Plan Act.
“I’m proud (that) our work over the past three years is helping provide more than 300,000 homes and businesses with reliable, high-quality internet,” Evers said.
Evers asked for $200 million for broadband expansion in his last budget proposal, though Republicans in the Legislative Assembly instead approved borrowing $125 million.
By awarding the full amount this year, the state will have about $4 million available for grants next year through the Universal Service Fund, a 30-year-old program to ensure access to basic services. essential telecommunications.
The PSC estimated that it would cost up to $1.4 billion to provide what the Federal Communications Commission considers high-speed Internet service (25/3 Mbps) to all residents.
Broadband experts say the market has served most densely populated areas where there is a good return on investment. But in rural areas — especially the rugged Driftless and North Woods region — there aren’t enough customers to cover the cost of installing cable or building wireless towers.
According to a 2021 report by the Federal Communications Commission, nearly 395,000 Wisconsin residents don’t have access, though private studies have estimated the true number could be over 600,000.