As businesses and municipalities become more reliant on the internet and connectivity, public officials are working to make sure rural and underserved urban communities aren’t left out.
After a Racine resident raised the issue of broadband access to Gov. Tony Evers, Evers included some initiatives in his proposed 2019-21 biennial budget.
Evers is proposing increasing the state’s broadband grant program to $39.3 million. He also wants the Department of Administration to conduct a comprehensive broadband report on “emerging broadband technologies, recommendations on how to provide incentives to telecommunications providers to serve unserved or underserved areas of Wisconsin and proposals on how existing state resources can be leveraged to serve those areas.”
Now the issue of broadband access has garnered bipartisan support at the federal level.
Normally Wisconsin’s two U.S. senators don’t agree on much, but both Democrat Tammy Baldwin and Republican Ron Johnson have helped introduce the Access Broadband Act which hopes to boost resources for business and communities in rural and underserved urban communities.
Baldwin said having access to “reliable high-speed broadband is critical to strengthening small businesses and communities throughout rural Wisconsin.”
“Our bipartisan legislation will better marshal our federal resources to help bring broadband access for all, no matter where you live in Wisconsin,” Baldwin said.
Johnson said this issue is particularly important to farmers, rural doctors and schools “looking to connect their students to the world.”
“While the federal government has numerous programs dedicated to bridging the urban-rural digital divide, the bureaucracy can be confusing and create barriers for broadband providers, communities, and small businesses who need access to these resources,” Johnson said. “This bill will streamline management of federal resources to ensure Wisconsinites have easier access to these critical resources, reduce government waste, and ultimately connect more Wisconsinites in today’s digital world.”
What’s in the bill
The bill, sponsored by U.S Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-N.M., and co-sponsored by Baldwin and Johnson, has been introduced in the Senate and referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Both Johnson and Baldwin are members of that committee.
If the bill is passed it would establish an Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
According to the bill, the office plans to connect communities with high-speed internet and “improved digital inclusion efforts through various forms of outreach and communication techniques.”
The office also plans to track federal funds that were used to construct any broadband infrastructure and develop a program to streamline and standardize the application process for grants and provide a report to congressional committees on the work that has been done.