Stuck with lousy internet in Wisconsin?

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If you live in rural Wisconsin, you know how bad the internet service can be. More than 40 percent of rural residents lack access to high speed internet, according to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin. The Wisconsin government has done relatively little to help. From 2013-2019, the state funded about $20 million in grants for expansion of broadband, an amount experts say is less than negligible. 

Since 2019, Gov Tony Evers (D-WI) has tried to invest more money into the rural broadband gap. After his request, the Republican-controlled legislature increased funding for broadband expansion, but also blocked several of the governor’s other attempts to speed the expansion. Some Republicans cringe at the high cost of installing fiber optic cables throughout rural Wisconsin, where there can be so few customers. Instead, some point to wireless options as a way forward. But wireless is slower than fiber, and can be affected by weather, trees and topography.

State law mandates that a city or town in Wisconsin complete a three-year feasibility study and hold a public hearing before building its own internet infrastructure. Telecommunications professor emeritus at UW-Madison Barry Orton says the legislation is a gift to private companies enjoying a lack of competition, which can use the feasibility report and their own deep pockets to attack the plan in the community and at public hearings. “Forcing a public hearing based on the economics spelled out in the statute gives opponents all they need for a taxpayer scare campaign that would force any proponent to cave,” Orton said.

Stuck with lousy internet?