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)
Gov. Tony Evers announced Tuesday that he will use $100 million in federal funds made available through the American Rescue Plan Act to expand broadband access across Wisconsin.
The money will be available through a program similar to the existing Broadband Expansion Grant program, which helps local governments fund projects that expand internet access to unserved and underserved areas in Wisconsin. Grant applications for the ARPA money will open June 1.
The massive allocation of money toward expanding internet access more than doubles what Evers has been able to spend during his term using just state money. In the previous two years, the broadband expansion program spent $52 million on 130 projects across the state.
The federal boost furthers Evers’ goal of making 2021 the “year of broadband.” In his proposed 2021-23 budget, Evers asked for more than $150 million to spend on a variety of programs to assist with expanding internet access. Some of those programs have so far survived the Republican-led Legislature and the budget axe wielded by the Joint Finance Committee, but a program to subsidize internet payments for low-income residents has already been cut from Evers’ budget.
“I declared 2021 the Year of Broadband Access because everyone in this state should have access to reliable internet service,” Evers said in a statement. “Between our Badger Bounceback agenda investments and these federal funds, we’re taking a major step toward connecting everyone in our state. I’m glad to be able to direct this funding to the PSC so the folks in need of high-speed internet can get connected as quickly as possible. I also urge our state legislature to pass our Badger Bounceback agenda to allocate an additional nearly $200 million for broadband access and provide financial assistance to low-income households struggling with their internet bills. This isn’t a question of providing federal or state funding for broadband — we must do both to ensure folks can get connected.”
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Guidance from the U.S. Treasury Department states that ARPA funds used to expand broadband must serve unserved or underserved homes and businesses; provide upload and download speeds of 100 mbps; prioritize physical connection, affordability and fiber optic cables and avoid spending money in areas that are already set to see reliable service provided before 2024.
The governor has also recently been promoting creative ways to provide internet service to Wisconsinites living in hard-to-reach areas. A grant through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation is set to help residents in Eau Claire County access the internet through a side project of the SpaceX rocket company that promises to provide reliable satellite internet.
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