Fight for Increased Broadband Access - a message from WI Governor Tony Evers. Jan 15

WI Governor Tony Evers writes to info@wnpj.org: I hope this email finds you safe and healthy as we welcome a new year and new opportunities in Wisconsin. As you may know, earlier this week I delivered my third State of the State Address. I would like to share with you an update on the critical issue of expanding access to high-speed, broadband internet throughout our state.  

 

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, broadband access was a significant challenge for many Wisconsinites. Our state ranks 36th in the country for broadband accessibility in rural areas. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), more than 430,000 Wisconsin residents—25 percent of our state's rural population—lack access to high-speed internet. That is why in my first biennial budget, we invested $54 million in broadband across our state—the largest state investment in broadband in Wisconsin’s history. We built on that investment this past fall, dedicating more than $5 million of federal CARES Act funding to the expansion of high-speed, broadband internet. In October, we deepened our commitment to broadband access by announcing the six communities selected for the new Broadband Connectors Pilot program cohort, a program that will help us better understand local communities’ broadband needs. And finally, last year we created a Task Force on Broadband Access to bring together experts from across the state to research and recommend solutions for equitably expanding high speed internet access to every residence, business, and institution in our state. 

 

Despite this progress, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us firsthand that access to high-speed internet continues to be challenging for kids, families, and businesses throughout Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s (WEDC) “Wisconsin Tomorrow” report highlighted broadband as one of three priorities for our state’s economic recovery, stating “Fixing broadband in Wisconsin is not a moon shot; it’s not insurmountable...but it is critical to economic development and recovery and must happen now.”  

 

This is why, in my State of the State Address this past Tuesday, I announced that 2021 will be the Year of Broadband Access in Wisconsin. I also announced that my 2021-2023 biennial budget proposal will nearly quadruple the amount my first budget invested in broadband, devoting nearly $200 million to increase broadband access for families, workers, and communities. Nearly $150 million of this total will go towards expanding broadband infrastructure in underserved areas through the broadband expansion grant program, and $40 million will help low-income Wisconsinites afford internet services. The total sum my budget proposal invests in broadband access is five times the amount invested in Wisconsin’s 2013, 2015, and 2017 budgets combined. 

 

From working and learning remotely, to running a business, to accessing basic healthcare services through telemedicine, expanding access to high-speed internet is key to ensuring that every Wisconsinite—no matter their zip code—has the tools they need to thrive. It's 2021, folks, and having access to high-speed internet is no longer a luxury. It’s a necessity. Period.  I hope you will continue to join us in the fight for increased broadband access. Please be safe and stay healthy. Message sent to WNPJ by Tony Evers. Comments to Tony Evers,  govinfo@wisconsin.gov,  www.evers.wi.gov - Phone: (608) 266-1212.