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Rural Lawmakers Propose Speeding Up Broadband Expansion

Proposal Would Spend $15.5M Over Next 4 Months To Increase High-Speed Internet Access

Internet cables
Elaine Thompson/AP Photo

A group of rural Wisconsin lawmakers wants to speed up a plan that would expand broadband internet access to their communities.

Gov. Scott Walker’s budget would spend $40.5 million to expand broadband access across the state over the next two years, but the lawmakers want to start the expansion now.

Their plan would spend $15.5 million over the next four months to expand broadband to parts of the state that don’t have fast, reliable internet.

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Rep. Romaine Quinn, R-Rice Lake, is one of the bill’s sponsors. He said the plan also includes some new guidance for the state Public Service Commission, which oversees the state’s broadband expansion grant program.

“This bill goes a step further to make sure this money is spent wisely and that our dollars go as far as possible into the rural areas that they’re targeted at,” Quinn said.

Quinn said the bill directs the state’s Public Service Commission how to identify high-priority areas and tightens eligibility for school districts that can receive state broadband funding, ensuring the grants go to high-needs areas.

The proposal was part of a package of bills announced Tuesday by the Rural Wisconsin Initiative, a group of lawmakers who champion rural issues in the state Legislature.

Another one of the group’s plans would provide student loan relief to individuals who graduate from college or technical school and then move to rural parts of Wisconsin.

That proposal would identify so-called “rural opportunity zones” and reward new residents there with up to $25,000 in student loan repayments.

“I’ve heard too many stories about students who graduate from a university, like UW-Stevens Point, but think they have to move to Milwaukee, Chicago and Minneapolis to succeed,” said Sen. Patrick Testin, R-Stevens Point. “We must prioritize investment in our rural communities, to keep them strong and to keep our state strong.”

Lawmakers introduced the proposal during the last legislative session as well. It never received a vote in the state Assembly or state Senate.