, , , , ,

Broadband Certification Looks To Help Rural Communities Attract New Investment

Critics Call For More Funding To Help Communities Access Broadband

Hope Kirwan/WPR

Wisconsin communities can now apply for certification to help increase access to high-speed Internet in rural areas, but critics say more funding is needed.

The Broadband Forward! Community Certification will make it easier for utility companies to expand broadband infrastructure in rural areas, Gov. Scott Walker said. The program requires communities adapt to a common permitting process and fee structure.

“(Broadband Forward!) is ensuring that our communities are ready,” Walker said at a press conference in Viroqua on Tuesday. “They’ve narrowed the process down so that it’s easy.”

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

But critics of the program said the certification doesn’t help rural communities with the cost of broadband expansion.

“This broadband ready designation that can be given to a community is really kind of a cover for the fact that they’re really not doing anything,” said George Wilbur, vice chairman of the Vernon County Democratic Party. Wilbur led a group of protesters outside the closed press conference at Vernon Communications Cooperative.

The program could help facilitate new expansion, but the state needs to provide more funding to compete with neighboring states like Minnesota, which awarded $10 million in broadband grants last year, Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling said.

“They’re really running laps around Wisconsin when it comes to broadband connectivity and the investment in economic development that it spurs,” she said.

Wisconsin awarded $1.5 million in broadband expansion grants last year to help cover equipment and construction expenses. Walker said he plans to increase this funding in the future.