Broadband task force 2022 report says progress has been made but Wisconsin still under connected

By: - July 14, 2022 6:42 am
HAMILTON, NEW ZEALAND - One of the new ultra fast broadband towers is seen on a rural farm in Eureka in Hamilton, New Zealand. Vodafone and the New Zealand Government switched on the first wave of newly built cell sites under the Rural Broadband Initiative (Photo by Sandra Mu/Getty Images)

HAMILTON, NEW ZEALAND – A new, ultra fast broadband tower seen on a rural farm in Hamilton, New Zealand. Vodafone and the New Zealand Government switched on the first wave of newly built cell sites under the Rural Broadband Initiative (Photo by Sandra Mu/Getty Images)

The Wisconsin Governor’s Task Force on Broadband Access released its 2022 report on Tuesday, showing that the millions of dollars in state and federal money spent on broadband expansion in recent years has increased access but there are still hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites without adequate internet service. 

The report shows that there are persistent challenges presented by a lack of quality data showing where the most underserved parts of the state are and making sure that broadband expansion projects reach the poorest, most rural and most marginalized communities. 

Since Gov. Tony Evers took office in 2019, the state has directed more than $300 million toward broadband expansion, according to a news release. That money has come from the state budget and federal aid through several COVID-19 relief bills and the bipartisan infrastructure law passed last year. The state and federal funds have provided or will provide new or improved internet services to more than 387,000 homes and businesses, the release states. 

“High-speed internet is absolutely critical to helping folks learn, work, and stay connected to important services, and since 2019, we’ve made tremendous progress in getting Wisconsinites connected by funding projects that will provide new or improved broadband to over 387,000 homes and businesses all across our state,” Gov. Evers said in a statement. “I want to thank the many experts, stakeholders, public officials, and industry leaders who have been working on this task force for the past two years for providing smart, strategic recommendations of steps our state can take to get communities connected by expanding the access, adoption, and affordability of internet for families, businesses, and folks across our state.”

Rebecca Cameron Valcq, chair of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, said that the report continues to highlight the barriers to connecting everyone in the state. 

“Removing barriers to access, affordability, and the use of broadband are necessary to ensure that all can realize its benefits,” she said. “Making the investments and taking the steps recommended in this and last year’s reports will set our communities on a path towards getting all connected.”

Among the task force’s 2022 recommendations are the continued funding of the state broadband expansion program; better connecting state agencies, local governments and internet service providers; helping tribal communities expand internet service; and doing a better job guiding local governments through the planning and construction process of projects. 

The challenge for expanding broadband access now is that the hardest-to-reach parts of the state are the largest part of what remains and those regions contain some of the state’s poorest residents. About 42% of all households in Wisconsin with less than $20,000 per year in income do not have a broadband internet subscription, the report states. 

Part of the problem, the report states, is that the existing fiber optic cable networks aren’t constructed very efficiently, making it difficult to connect those networks to homes and businesses. 

This “middle mile” of the internet system is the infrastructure that runs between the national internet network and the direct hookups to people’s homes. 

“The Task Force believes that better coordination of construction and use of middle mile routes within the state could lead to a more efficient use of scarce fiber resources,” the report states. 

In the last round of broadband expansion grants, 11 middle mile projects were given grant funding, according to the report, but to better improve this system as a whole, the task force recommends facilitating cooperation between the owners of the middle mile fiber lines and the ISPs running internet into homes and to encourage communities to think regionally about their internet infrastructure, not just how many homes within the local boundaries have access. 

Largely, the report highlights the huge amount of federal funding that has been dedicated to expanding broadband access across the country and notes that the state needs to do everything it can to not waste the “once-in-a-generation funding opportunity.

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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.