A state task for appointed by Gov. Evers in July 2020 to explore ways to support construction of broadband infrastructure and address digital equity issues in our state has released a report of its findings and recommendations.
The report of the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband details the extent to which Wisconsin trails the national on a number of broadband indicators. It also sheds new light on how rural Wisconsin is impacted by a lack of broadband access and how both rural Wisconsin and low-income Wisconsinites are impacted by a lack of affordable broadband.
In a written statement, Task Force Chair Brittany Beyer notes broadband access has emerged over the past year as “one of the clear-cut issues to solve for personal, community, and economic prosperity in the coming decades.” She characterized the task force’s recommendations as focused on “access, affordability and adoption” of broadband.
Among the recommendations are the following:
- Increase funding for broadband expansion grants to offset the costs for internet service providers to serve difficult to reach areas.
- Create planning and implementation grants to help communities plan for broadband expansion.
- Increase construction and permitting coordination to streamline expansion projects.
- Explore hybrid models of broadband infrastructure development and ownership, including creating shared- risk mechanisms for public/private partnerships that make use of publicly owned infrastructure to help private internet service providers reach underserved locations.
- Collect internet access data from all providers at a household and business level to clarify who has reliable, high-speed access and gain a better picture of broadband affordability and the obstacles to broadband utilization.
- Increase broadband consumer protections and pricing transparency so that people know what service they should expect and get what they are paying for. This could include standardizing billing and labeling of broadband services, charges and fees, including monthly charges for data, the amount of data the customer actually used, and average network speeds delivered.
- Establish a state Internet Assistance program to subsidize the cost of internet service for low-income families.
- Develop and fund a statewide “digital navigator” program to assist people who are underserved due to inadequate service and solve a wide range of internet adoption issues.
- Align, coordinate and maximize present and future federal broadband funding.
The report recommends that the goals of the Task Force be reviewed annually with a report to the Legislature to offer updates on the state’s progress toward those goals.
Over the past eight years the state has awarded $73.6 million in broadband expansion grants. Nearly three quarters of those grants were given out during the two-year budget cycle that ended today (on June 30).
Earlier this year Evers allocated $100 million in federal pandemic relief for broadband expansion. The 2021-23 state budget bill about to be passed by the Legislature would authorize the state to borrow $125 million for broadband expansion.