By SCOTT BAUER, Associated Press
MADISON, Wisconsin (AP) – The effort to extend high-speed internet to underserved rural areas of Wisconsin would receive a boost of $ 125 million under the budget drafted by Republicans, or about 75 million dollars less in public funding than proposed Democratic Governor Tony Evers.
The Republican co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee said on Tuesday the money would be largely funded by bonds, but did not have details on how it would be allocated. The committee voted on the proposal later Tuesday.
The state funding would be in addition to federal coronavirus relief money arriving in Wisconsin that can be spent on broadband. Evers previously announced that $ 100 million in federal infrastructure money would go towards new broadband grants.
Expanding broadband access is one of the few issues at the Statehouse where Republicans and Democrats both agree it should be a priority. Evers has declared 2021 “the year of broadband” and has offered to spend around $ 200 million in state dollars on broadband over the next two years. The majority of that amount, about $ 152 million, would go to grants to expand services to underserved areas.
Republican committee co-chair Senator Howard Marklein said it had not yet been determined whether the $ 125 million the committee planned to approve would go into the existing grant program.
The budget committee is working to finalize its budget plan so that the legislature can vote on it by the end of the month. That would then fall to Evers, who can make changes with its article veto.
Broadband Internet is defined by the Federal Communications Commission as a speed of at least 25 megabits per second for download and 3 megabits per second for download. The FCC estimates that about 392,500 Wisconsin residents do not have access to such fast speeds, almost all in rural areas.
This puts Wisconsin at the bottom of its neighboring states and below the national average, based on FCC broadband access data from 2019.
The Wisconsin Civil Service Commission estimates that it would cost between $ 740 and $ 1.4 billion to provide high-speed service equal to 25 Mbps of download and 3 Mbps of download to all residents of the state who have it. currently lacking.
There is a higher minimum speed for the use of federal money sent to Wisconsin. The $ 100 million in new grants announced by Evers can only be spent on expansion projects that meet or exceed download and upload speeds of 100 Mbps. It can go down to 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps download only if higher speeds are not possible due to geography or excessive costs.
In April, Evers vetoed a Republican-drafted bill that would have allocated $ 500 million in one-time federal stimulus funds for broadband expansion.
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