GOP lawmakers call for expansion of broadband infrastructure

Wisconsin State Farmer
Broadband cable is seen at a construction site.

State Representative Rob Summerfield (R-Bloomer) and State Senator Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) are calling for the expansion of Wisconsin's broadband infrastructure to help unserved communities.

The two legislators circulated legislation this week to "dial-in" the Wisconsin Rural Broadband Expansion Grant program, which was created in 2013. Since then, the program has invested more than $72 million in grant funding to unserved and underserved communities with little or no access to high-speed internet.

Howard Marklein

“Broadband expansion continues to be one of my top priorities,” Sen. Marklein said. “We have made tremendous progress in Wisconsin and with this progress comes the need to refine the Rural Broadband Expansion grant program and our efforts to continue expanding into the communities that need our support. The changes in this legislation, written with stakeholders, keep the grant program nimble so that we are reaching the truly unserved in Wisconsin.”

The bill seeks to remove underserved communities from the program to better focus on unserved communities. Underserved communities have access to high-speed broadband, but may only have access in limited areas or from only one service provider. Unserved communities are considered to have no high-speed broadband access. The bill also proposes changing the definition of "unserved" to include speeds 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up or less.

Other highlights of the bill include giving priority to expansion projects with at least 50% in matching funds, as well as prioritizing projects that will install speeds of 900 Mbps or more. The Wisconsin Public Service Commission would also offer technical support to local municipalities in building these projects if the bill passes. They would also be required to develop educational tools for those municipalities.

State Rep. Rob Summerfield (R-Bloomer)

“This legislation is a crucial step towards connecting all Wisconsinites with high-speed internet services,” Rep. Summerfield said. “We need a bold plan to ensure our state remains competitive in the coming decades, and I think this legislation will be another tool in the tool box to accomplishing that goal.”