Wisconsin utility regulators have awarded nearly $100 million in federal pandemic relief money to fund broadband expansion projects expected to bring high-speed internet access to more than 29,000 homes and businesses.
The Public Service Commission selected 83 projects from 242 applications seeking more than $440 million in public funding.
The grant awards, the largest in state history, more than double the $73.6 million in broadband funding the state has provided over the past eight years, including $48 million set aside in the last two-year budget.
Gov. Tony Evers allocated $100 million of the roughly $2.5 billion in federal relief awarded to Wisconsin through the American Rescue Plan Act for broadband expansion, one of his administration’s top priorities.
Evers also included $200 million for broadband expansion in his last two-year budget proposal, though Republicans in the Legislature instead approved borrowing $125 million.
According to guidance from the U.S. Treasury, eligible broadband projects are expected to serve homes and businesses with no or little access, favor fiber-optic cable where feasible, provide upload and download speeds of at least 100 Mbps where practical and prioritize affordability.
The funds were not supposed to go to projects in areas where there are agreements to build reliable 100/20 Mbps service by 2025.
According to a 2021 report from the Federal Communications Commission, roughly 394,900 people in Wisconsin lack access to quality broadband service, though private studies have estimated the actual number could be higher than 600,000.
The study finds the problem may be worse than we thought, with implications for health, education and prosperity -- problems that are further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has pushed nearly every aspect of daily life online.
In rural areas, Wisconsin ranks 36th in the nation for broadband access, with 21.8% being unserved or underserved.
The PSC has estimated it would cost between $740 million and $1.4 billion to bring 25/3 Mbps speed internet — the FCC definition of broadband — to all residents.
Broadband experts say the market has served most of the densely populated areas where there’s a good return on investment. But in rural areas — especially the rugged Driftless Area and remote North Woods — there just aren’t enough customers to cover the cost of installing cable or building wireless towers.
Photos: Packers' 2021 season in pictures
Check out photo galleries from every game of 2021 from the preseason through the end of the regular season and the playoffs.
The Green Bay Packers fell to the Houston Texans 26-7 in a preseason game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021.
Despite third-string quarterback Kurt Benkert’s strong showing while filling in for injured backup QB Jordan Love, the Packers came up short i…
The Green Bay Packers failed to pick up a win in the preseason, falling to 0-3 in exhibition play after getting blanked by the Buffalo Bills 1…
Reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers threw two interceptions as the Green Bay Packers struggled on both sides of the ball Sunday afternoon, falling …
Wisconsin State Journal photographer Kayla Wolf captured all the action from Lambeau Field as the Green Bay Packers quickly erased a 17-14 hal…
Check out all the best images from Levi's Stadium as the Green Bay Packers escaped with a 30-28 victory over the San Francisco 49ers after a w…
The Green Bay Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17 on Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.
The Green Bay Packers improved to 4-1 on the season after kicker Mason Crosby overcame a shaky performance to hit the game-winning field goal …
The Green Bay Packers improved to 5-1 on the season after rolling past the Chicago Bears 24-14 on Sunday at Soldier Field in Chicago.
The Green Bay Packers shored up their red-zone defense Sunday en route to their sixth consecutive victory of the season, defeating the Washing…