Governor Walker traveled the state last week to announce a second round of Broadband Expansion Grants for Fiscal Year 2018, which will provide $7.5 million to underserved areas of the state. This grant cycle supplies additional funds recently approved in the state budget.
Governor Walker recently made the following remarks regarding broadband expansion throughout Wisconsin:
“Generations ago, electricity changed the way my grandparents farmed. Today, access to high speed internet connections will have a similar positive impact on rural Wisconsin.” – Weekly Radio Address, October 19, 2017
“This additional funding will provide Wisconsin’s families and businesses with the technology and information they need to prosper in today’s global economy. The need for access to reliable, high-speed internet service is becoming an increasingly important part of life for Wisconsin’s families and businesses. We recognize that broadband access is critical for a modern commercial environment, enabling businesses to reach customers and suppliers, and permitting individuals to work from home.” – Press release, October 11, 2017
In total, the 2017-19 state budget increases broadband investments by $35.5 million.
Broadband Expansion Grants
- Governor Walker created the Broadband Expansion Grant Program in the 2011-2013 biennial budget. This program provides reimbursement for equipment and construction expenses incurred to extend or improve broadband telecommunications service in underserved areas of the state.
- In the five years of this program, the Public Service Commission (PSC) has awarded nearly $5.5 million in grants to 55 projects located in 31 different counties.
- These grant projects offer a variety of partnerships between the state, local governments and private parties. Since the creation of the Broadband Expansion Program, state funding has spurred approximately $13.9 Million in broadband build-out.
- The grants have connected over 20,000 households and 600 businesses with improved broadband.
- The current state budget allocates an additional $13 million for broadband expansion grants. The new budget provides for sustained level of funding for the broadband grant program in the future, at $2 million per year beginning in FY 2019.
- A second round of Broadband Expansion Grants for FY 2018 will extend $7.5 million to underserved areas of the state. Applications are due on Jan 25, 2018 and grants will be awarded in March 2018.
- A round of Fiscal Year 2019 grants will extend another $7.0 million to underserved areas of the state.
- The budget also removes barriers to broadband development by prohibiting the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Transportation from requiring appraisals or charging any fee prior to granting any permits or easements for the construction of broadband infrastructure in underserved areas.
- The Commission will give priority consideration to projects that propose to serve an area that is currently unserved. An unserved area now means an area with no broadband provider offering a service of least 5 Mbps down / 600 Kbps up.
Technology for Educational Achievement (TEACH) Grants
- TEACH grants allow more school districts to apply for grants for allowable costs under the Infrastructure Grant Program. Allowable costs include reimbursing eligible school districts for improving information technology infrastructure.
- The budget includes increased funding for the Infrastructure Grant Program through Technology for Educational Achievement (TEACH) by $22.5 million.
- The budget also includes a provision to allow districts to apply for TEACH grant funding for mobile hot spots on buses and mobile hot spots for students to check out from school libraries and utilize on the go. Access to high-speed internet is particularly challenging in rural areas. When combined with school laptop computers, taking mobile hot spots home allows students online access outside school hours for homework. The hot spots can only be used for homework while entertainment sites such as Netflix may be blocked.
- The Teacher Training Grant Program includes $3 million over the biennium, or $1.5 million per year. This will allow more school districts to apply for grants for allowable costs of training teachers to use educational technology.