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Wisconsin gets $1B from feds for boosting broadband

Wooden spool with fiber optic cable for fast internet ready to be laid in narrow trenches in the ground
MAREN WINTER/Maren Winter - stock.adobe.com
Wooden spool with fiber optic cable for fast internet ready to be laid in narrow trenches in the ground

As rural communities still suffer from the so-called digital divide, the Biden administration has announced the rollout of more than $42 billion for the expansion of high-speed internet access. That includes $1 billion dollars for Wisconsin. The funding comes from the multi-year federal infrastructure law that was adopted in late 2021. Federal officials say more than 8 million households and small businesses in the U.S. are in areas where there is no high-speed internet infrastructure.

Deb Reinbold, president, Thrive Economic Development, said it is welcome news for smaller towns.

"It's a huge opportunity for the state," she said. "In today's interconnected world, broadband's not just a luxury, it's a lifeline, and especially for rural communities."

Reinbold added her area has seen progress thanks to separate grants in recent months, but said there are still some areas that need service, and there is hope the new funding will close remaining gaps. According to a statewide task force report, nearly 7% of Wisconsin residents lack access to the FCC standard for download speed, mostly in rural areas.

Reinbold is also a board member with the Wisconsin Rural Partners group, and said beyond helping rural residents and small businesses, the extra funding allows health providers in these communities to easily connect with patients.

"Telehealth is also something that we're seeing such a significant investment in from our area, medical clinics and hospitals," she said. "Honestly, the impact is very widespread."

Wisconsin's Public Service Commission will be in charge of distributing the grants. In a statement, it says it will ensure the funding gets to where it is needed as quickly as it can while maintaining transparency in being stewards of taxpayer dollars.

Mike Moen is a radio news reporter with nearly two decades of experience in the field. He has covered much of the upper Midwest, including Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. Many of his stories have aired nationally, including several public radio programs.
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