Wisconsin governor seeks $750M for broadband as grant apps pile up

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers proposed a budget for 2023-2025 which calls for the state to invest $750 million over the next decade to close its broadband gap. If adopted, the budget could help the state’s Broadband Expansion Grant program meet overwhelming demand for funding. The program’s latest funding round is set to award as much as $14.1 million this year, but the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC) said last week it received applications requesting more than five times that amount.

Specifically, Evers last month proposed the state invest at least $75 million in broadband expansion projects annually over a 10-year period. He also sought to raise the speed requirement for grants from its existing Broadband Expansion Grant program to 100/20 Mbps and create a new Broadband Line Extension Grant Program.

The latter would help eligible households cover the cost of running line extensions from existing infrastructure to their homes. Evers proposed the new program be funded with $1.75 million in the state’s 2023-2024 fiscal year and $3.5 million the year after.

Rebecca Cameron Valcq, chair of the PSC, which oversees the Broadband Expansion Grant program, said in a statement that Evers “understands that, even with federal funding coming to Wisconsin for broadband, to get everyone connected will require continued state investment.” She added “state dollars will give the PSC the ability to target investments to the most difficult areas to deploy broadband and fill in the gaps where federal funding may fall short.”

ACA Connects recently estimated Wisconsin will receive around $1 billion from the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program. Federal officials are expected to announce state allocations this summer. 

Grants past and present

Wisconsin awarded nearly $125 million in broadband grants last year through the PSC’s Broadband Expansion Grant Program, and to date has doled out $197.6 million in state funds to expand connectivity there. In December, it began accepting applications for another $14.1 million in funding but said last month it received a total of 74 applications requesting $73.7 million. The vast majority – or 67 – of the applications were for fiber projects.

Charter Communications (EPON fiber), Brightspeed (fiber), Frontier Communications (fiber), TDS Telecom (fiber) and UScellular (fixed wireless) were among those seeking grants.

State funding aside, Wisconsin has also directed a total of $105.3 million in federal support to broadband projects, including $5.4 million from the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and $99.9 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars.