The Doyle Administration's recent request to use $23 million in federal recovery funds - combined with a state match of $5.7 million - to expand broadband access in Wisconsin is of vital importance for our state.
But without approval from the State Legislature's Joint Finance Committee to use these funds, Wisconsin residents across the state won't be able to see the benefits.
The plan would add fiber optic connections at 467 schools in 70 districts and libraries in 380 communities by the end of 2010 and 2011, respectively.
Implementation of the plan is expected to employ more than 300 people during the construction process, and the broadband expansion will reach out to within three miles of over 390 law enforcement agencies, nearly 300 fire departments and 119 hospitals. Maybe most significantly, broadband access will be improved for 91,000 businesses across the state as a direct result of the investment.
Expanding Internet access - particularly broadband access – is one of the best ways to foster economic development, support educational opportunities, and increase connections between citizens across the state. Approval of this funding is important to ensure that Wisconsin can continue to grow and advance in an increasingly competitive economic climate.
According to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, economic growth is significantly higher in areas with access to broadband than in those without. Broadband connectivity is key for attracting investment dollars to rural areas and allowing those areas to compete for jobs in an increasingly technology-centered economy.
The same study also found that broadband Internet access allows students to use improved and otherwise unavailable educational resources, such as online courses and direct telecommunications with teachers and advisors.
Wisconsin is already among the top-ranked states in the nation in terms of Internet usage by individuals, which bodes well for Wisconsin's future economic growth. With an already solid foundation, this broadband expansion puts us on the right track to create new jobs and grow our economy.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the state is ninth in the country for individuals that access the Internet from some location at 74.9 percent. Wisconsin is tenth in terms of individuals living in households with Internet access at 78.8 percent. Those figures put Wisconsin well above the two categories' national averages of 68.4 and 73.5 percent, respectively.
Our state's existing broadband infrastructure is already some of the best in the country. By installing new fiber optic lines into communities across Wisconsin, the State can take the first step towards allowing private companies to expand on this basic infrastructure and offer service to surrounding communities as well. This project is a public/private partnership that will allow Wisconsin's broadband access to continue to grow over the coming years, and help bring us closer to universal broadband for citizens in every corner of the state.
Given the expected economic benefits of broadband deployment, there is no better use for the federal recovery dollars. The State Legislature's Joint Finance Committee needs to approve the use of these funds, and help ensure the economic benefits of this project – both short-term and long-term – are a reality for Wisconsin.
Thad Nation is the executive director of Wired Wisconsin, the Wisconsin-based project of Midwest Consumers for Choice and Competition (MCCC), a nonprofit organization of individual consumers interested in technology, broadband, and telecommunication issues with state projects throughout the Midwest region.