Hoping to increase funding and expand high-speed Internet access in rural school districts, state Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, proposed a collaborative rural broadband expansion bill Tuesday.
Lawmakers who introduced the bill in a news conference Tuesday said that rural districts could not keep waiting for faster broadband capabilities.
The bill is a combination of Gov. Scott Walker’s K-12 funding proposal and recommendations made by the 2016 Study Committee on Rural Broadband, according to a press release.
The broadband expansion bill, also called LRB-2042/1, was co-authored by Rep. Romaine Quinn, R-Rice Lake, and is part of the Assembly’s Rural Wisconsin Initiative 2017-'18 session.
The Rural Wisconsin Initiative was assembled to help local businesses and rural school districts that are often hurt when their residents and consumers shift away from rural areas toward urban and suburban settings. The Institute works to reverse the trend through the sustainment of local businesses and the development of new ones that can employ young people.
The group believes that the trend can be reversed through technology, health care and workforce development.
This broadband bill would give $15.5 million in high-speed Internet grants to rural areas and prioritizing areas not already benefitting from federal grants. It also prevents the duplication of existing services and discourages broadband companies from “cherry-picking” high-value customers while leaving residential customers in the dust.
The bill additionally adds funding for the Technology for Educational Achievement program, making more rural school districts eligible for the program.
“Reliable, high-speed broadband serves a greater purpose than just fast internet, it is crucial for expanding economic opportunity, health care services, agriculture, education and public safety,” state Rep. Joel Kitchens, R-Sturgeon Bay, said in a press release. “Workforce readiness is one of our top priorities this session. Building upon previous sessions’ work towards improved broadband access is an important part of that.”