The Biden administration has approved the use of $140 million in funds from the president’s American Rescue Plan to increase internet access and affordability across Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers and Sen. Tammy Baldwin announced last week.
The money, approved by the US Treasury Department, will be used to fund two new grant programs.
The first, dubbed the Flexible Facilities Program, will allow both local and tribal governments to pay for construction or renovations to institutions such as libraries and community centers in order to lead to increased digital connectivity. This program will get up to $107 million of the funds via the Wisconsin Department of Administration to ensure that residents of communities that are in “critical need” of internet access get connected to work, health care, education, and more.
The second new program, the Digital Connectivity and Navigators Program, will use $33 million of the funds to install Wi-Fi in “targeted” apartment buildings across the state; this money will be disbursed through the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.
“Meaningfully investing in expanding high-speed internet access must be one of our top priorities to ensure our industries, families, and communities continue to grow and prosper,” Evers said in a statement. “With these new programs, we will have more opportunities to invest in the services that ensure both Wisconsinites and our state are prepared to meet the needs of the 21st century.”
Expanding internet access has been a key initiative of Evers’ administration. Since 2019, 395,000 homes and businesses across the state have been connected to the internet, he said in his statement
“High-speed internet is a necessity for Wisconsinites across the state to run their businesses, attend school, manage their farms, and connect with friends and family,” Sen. Baldwin added in a statement issued Thursday. “I am proud to bring home this investment to connect families and businesses with reliable broadband—ensuring more Wisconsinites can fully participate in the economy, kids get the education they deserve, and families can connect with loved ones across the world.”
In addition to funds from the American Rescue Plan, Wisconsin has expanded the internet across the state in recent years thanks to Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
According to the White House, the law has provided $1.1 billion to expand access to high-speed broadband internet in the state, with the goal of connecting many of the 250,000-plus homes and small businesses in Wisconsin without access to high-speed internet infrastructure.
Additionally, since the law’s passage in 2021, about 413,000 households in Wisconsin have also enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which is funded by the law. It cuts internet bills by up to $30 per month for eligible households, or $75 for households on tribal lands or in certain rural areas. It also provides a one-time $100 discount off a connected device.
The Biden administration worked with internet providers to offer high-speed internet plans that are fully covered by the ACP, meaning most eligible households in Wisconsin are able to get high-speed internet for free.
Elected officials at both the state and federal level are currently urging Congress to extend funding for the ACP through Dec. 2024, as the program is expected to run out of funding by April 2024.
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