by Benjamin Yount
A disagreement over who should get free access to high speed internet in some parts of Wisconsin likely means no one is getting a new connection anytime soon.
Gov. Tony Evers last week vetoed SB 365, which would have expanded high speed internet service in rural parts of the state.
The governor said expanding broadband access is one of his top priorities, but scuttled the plan because he doesn’t like how Republican lawmakers were going about it.
“The Broadband Expansion Grant Program provides funding for broadband infrastructure in areas where private sector investment is insufficient,” Evers wrote in his veto message. “[The] statutory challenge process will delay the delivery of critical broadband services to rural parts of Wisconsin.”
But Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, said Evers’ veto will actually hurt rural communities across Wisconsin.
“This is just another example of the Governor’s preference for urban cities over the rural people I serve,” Marklein said Monday. “The Governor decided that he would rather be able to send these funds to places like the city of Milwaukee and other cities that already have multiple telecommunications providers and options for consumers. He also wants to be able to send these funds to communities that may have a federal project starting soon, rather than sending it to a community that has no options in sight.”
Rep. Rob Summerfield, R-Bloomer, on Monday accused Evers of playing technical games to shift money away from rural communities to the areas he claims are underserved.
“Under the current system, an ‘unserved’ area is defined as an area that lacks a provider who offers speeds at 20% of the federal standard,” Summerfield explained. “That equates to speeds of approximately 5 Mbps, which is wholly inadequate if Wisconsin’s economy is expected to remain competitive in the coming decades.”
Gov. Evers said he objects to “codifying the speed definition” of underserved communities.
Gov. Evers’ said he’s already pledged $280 million for broadband internet projects, though much of the money remains unspent and undesignated.
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