Early this month, the state of Wisconsin took a step toward universal broadband for the state’s residents when Governor Scott Walker announced the Broadband Forward! Community Certification Program.
The initiative seeks to streamline broadband infrastructure investment in cities and communities by “eliminating obstacles” and thereby signaling to funders “that a community wants broadband,” according to Public Service Commission of Wisconsin spokesperson Elise Nelson.
While Wisconsin’s broadband coverage is slightly above the national average – the state ranks 23rd – according to Broadband Now, 20% of the state’s population lacks access to high-speed connections. Watchdog.org argues that the main barrier to private investment in underserved rural areas are “local government regulations,” and Governor Walker’s initiative should streamline the permitting process “and [cut] regulatory costs [which] will stretch Wisconsin’s broadband expansion grants,” according to state Representative Adam Jarchow (R-Balsam Lake) and Senator Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst).
But opponents, including state Rep. Dave Considine (D-Baraboo) express concern that the state is infringing on local control – after all, cities across the state that do not comply with the Broadband Forward! Community Certification Program may not qualify for the State of Wisconsin’s annual $1.5 million in broadband grants.
Critics are also concerned that while streamlining permitting process is progress, state financing of broadband is paltry: Next door, Minnesota Governor mark Dayton “has budgeted $20 million to improve broadband… and he advocates spending another $100 million from the state’s surplus,” according to GovTech. While Dayton may not get all the financing he desires, his goals are a far cry from those of Walker, who rejected $23 million in federal grant money in 2012 that, GovTech informs us, “would have expanded broadband networks to dozens of schools and hundreds of libraries.”