Senator Baldwin and Congressman Pocan helped push the FCC to update its coverage map so that Wisconsin gets what’s needed to bring affordable high-speed service to all.
Wisconsin will get $1.1 billion in federal funds to expand broadband (high-speed) internet service to everyone in the state, part of a history-making announcement Monday by the Biden administration.
The White House announced the awarding of $42 billion to states and territories over the next two years. The push is funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and reflects a national realization during the COVID pandemic that broadband is a modern-day necessity for education, business, and domestic life.
“No matter where you live in the state, you deserve access to reliable high-speed broadband,” said Sen. Tammy Baldwin in an online news conference Monday. “These resources will help us do that.”
Wisconsin’s allocation is significantly higher than officials first expected because, as Baldwin put it, she “badgered” the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) into updating their map of Wisconsin broadband internet availability, and the resulting corrections led to more funding to connect people and businesses to high-speed internet service.
Baldwin said about 650,000 Wisconsinites lack access to broadband and that leaving them behind in the “digital divide” is unacceptable.
The funding comes through the infrastructure law’s Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program. The BEAD funds are to be used to expand high-speed internet service to places currently unserved or under-served. If there is money left over after extending service to those who have none, it can be used to improve slow service elsewhere.
“High-speed internet access is no longer a luxury; it’s a requirement,” said US Rep. Mark Pocan at the news conference. “Nearly everything we do requires access to the internet. This historic investment of more than $1 billion will create good-paying jobs across the state and help make access to the internet a reality for all Wisconsinites.”
White House Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu called today’s announcement the largest-ever investment in broadband service and likened it to the rural electrification push of the 1930s, when around 90% of America’s farm families had no electricity in their homes and barns. Landrieu said the expansion will be especially helpful in rural Wisconsin as more farmers use precision agriculture, which relies on field sensors that can upload data in real time.
“This is a big win for rural America,” Landrieu said.
Wisconsin will receive $1,055,823,574 in total funding in two stages. The first 20% will be awarded by the state through competitive grants expected in the summer of 2024. The remaining 80% will be awarded in 2025.
Gov. Tony Evers proposed an additional $750 million in state funding be allocated to broadband expansion to get the job done faster. Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee changed that number to $0.
Baldwin noted that unlike roads, bridges, and buildings that are tangible and are often seen in ribbon-cuttings, expanded internet service is less visible as it gradually reaches each new household and business.
“You’ll see it in the families who don’t have to sit in a parking lot so their children can access WiFi to do their homework,” Baldwin said.
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