Rural Broadband Will Need Federal Help. Here’s What Trump Has Done and What Biden Proposes.
Wisconsin ranks 30th nationally for broadband accessibility, according to the Federal Communications Commission. (Shutterstock image)

Stimulus funding could join another $200 million from the state if the Legislature approves governor’s budget request for high-speed internet.

Gov. Tony Evers announced Tuesday that the state will be using $100 million in federal coronavirus stimulus funding to award grants for expanding broadband internet access in Wisconsin.

The federal funding from the American Rescue Plan is in addition to nearly $200 million in broadband expansion proposals Evers made in his state budget, which is pending before the Republican-controlled Legislature. Evers said the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) will award the $100 million in federal funding based on a model similar to an existing broadband expansion grant program.

Applications will be made available June 1, along with more details about the grants, with a deadline of July 27.

Evers said the federal money, combined with what he’s proposing in the state budget, will be a “major step forward connecting everyone in our state.”

The governor’s office said this is the largest single disbursement of money for broadband expansion in state history, a claim that withstands scrutiny. 

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In the 2019-21 state budget, Evers proposed $78.6 million for the state’s Rural Broadband Expansion program, but legislative Republicans only allowed $48 million. Under former President Donald Trump, the US Department of Agriculture invested $80.9 million in broadband expansion in Wisconsin.

The current federal money for broadband expansion is to be targeted to projects that benefit unserved or underserved households and businesses in the state. Broadband Now, a broadband expansion advocacy group, ranks Wisconsin as 30th in the nation for broadband access. About 173,000 state residents do not have access to a wired internet provider and another 836,000 only have access to a single provider, according to Broadband Now.

The Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee has not taken up Evers’ broadband plan yet. Committee co-chair Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) said Tuesday that the governor’s plan is still being discussed but he believed there was a need for state funding in addition to the federal money for broadband.

This is not the first time Evers has used federal economic relief funds to expand high-speed internet service. Last September, Evers allocated more than $5 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act for the PSC to make awards to 12 broadband expansion projects. A statement from the governor’s office said projects from that funding provided new or improved access to service for more than 20,000 homes, businesses, and farms across the state.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.