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‘We really need it right now’: how the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act could improve Northwoods broadband

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The trillion-dollar infrastructure bill is awaiting President Joe Biden’s signature.

The funding package tackles transportation, broadband, and utilities, all of which could have a big impact on state.

Where you live in the Northwoods goes a long way in determining how reliable your connection is and what options you have when it comes to internet, if there’s even more than one available.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, according to Brittany Beyer. Beyer is the Executive Director of Grow North Regional Economic Development and the Chair of the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband.

“The truth is broadband needs this kind of investment for us to get to that level that we need to be participating in as well as we can in the 21st century,” said Beyer. “The announcement from the White House talks about it as the investment, just like the electrification of the whole entire country back a century ago. This really is the investment for the 21st Century similar to that and we really need it right now.”

Nearly 14% of Wisconsin residents live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds. And 69% of Wisconsin residents live in areas where there is only one such provider, according to the White House.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act plan devotes $65 billion to addressing gaps in high-speed internet.

Beyer said the money can be used for the actual infrastructure or the data collection, broadband mapping, and planning.

“Honestly we don’t have a statewide plan for broadband implementation at this point. This may be the way to use that and to help identify the communities that need more technical assistance so that they can get ready for this type of work,” said Beyer.

Beyer said one of the biggest challenges in the Northwoods has been getting a provider or community to take on a project when they might not get that big of return on investment.

The trees here can make fixed wireless internet unreliable.

Fiber optics are a good solution, but that means a multi-million-dollar project and huge time commitment.

“I’m hoping that this is the moment where again, with an eye on strategic planning and support mechanisms we can get communities ready to help themselves, but also partner them with the providers to close those gaps,” said Beyer.

The bill also creates a plan designed to lower prices for internet service.

It will require providers that receive funding to offer a low-cost affordable plan.

Providers would have to display what’s being called a “broadband nutritional label” so people can see what services they’re paying for and easily compare them.

On top of funding that will eventually be available through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Governor Tony Evers announced more funding for broadband Tuesday.

The $100 million will go to providing broadband to underserved areas of the state.