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Walker economic development priorities include broadband

April 11, 2013 | 0 comments

When he traveled around the state, visiting companies, factories, farms and hospitals, Gov. Scott Walker said he heard about things that were important to the people of Wisconsin.

People he talked to want state government working on issues that affect economic development, create jobs and develop a workforce he told a gathering of several hundred people gathered in Madison for a Broadband Planning Symposium last week.

One of his key priorities for the state is investing in infrastructure, he said, which includes roads, bridges, airports and broadband - high-speed connections to the internet.

Clean water and cost-effective power are important to economic development, but increasingly so is broadband availability, especially in rural and underserved areas.

In today's economy, he said, people can work from almost anywhere but they have to have the infrastructure.

"In Wisconsin historically the dairy industry is why roads and particularly the county trunk roads are so much better than other states. That's part of our heritage and history."

As the roads were developed so dairy farmers could get their milk to markets, other businesses benefited, he said, and it created economic development throughout the state. To make broadband available in every part of the state is "incredibly important."

Increasingly, broadband access is even important to tourism, Walker said. People who are used to high-speed connections will take longer vacations in places where there is more sustainable broadband coverage.

"Broadband development is critically important to the economic development of the state. We need to make sure there are not just pockets of economic prosperity."

Walker said as the infrastructure is developed in the public sector, it will help if all the infrastructure is tied together. When streets or roads go in, it will save money if fiber-optic cable for broadband is put in at the same time.

The state's playbook for broadband development should look at cost challenges and find out why there isn't service in some areas.

Capital asset planning for the state needs to incorporate broadband planning, he said. "It is just as vitally important as harbors and other infrastructure."

While he doesn't want the government subsidizing or taking the place of the private sector when it comes to broadband development, Walker said it must be made affordable and efficient. "I want to make sure everyone has broadband."

The governor said he foresees public-private partnerships as one way to give priority to large geographic areas or areas that have a large number of people without broadband service, including rural areas.

There are certain parts of the state where residents expressed frustration to him about their inability to get broadband connections, he said and that's why he put a grant program for broadband development in his biennial budget plan.

Walker said he feels positive about the grant program. "We think it's a key priority. This is something we can solve. I and my cabinet are committed to making sure we get this done."

"I'd like to have a map of Wisconsin with no gaps, because that's not just a gap in broadband, it's a gap in opportunity," said Walker.

Just like a century ago good roads were important for the dairy industry, today broadband coverage is important for the state's economic development, he said.

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