Contact: Joshua Morby (414) 791-9120
Develop Wisconsin Launches Campaign to Promote Access
MADISON – Support for broadband technology and high speed internet continues to gain momentum with legislators in Madison, as well as business leaders across the state.
There are currently two bills pending before the State Legislature that seek to expand broadband access, but they go about it in very different ways:
The Broadband Deployment Act (Assembly Bill 892) would provide state tax incentives to telecommunications companies to provide service to areas of the state without broadband access.
The Develop Wisconsin Act (Senate Bill 111) creates an avenue for Wisconsin businesses and consumers to gain access to technology, such as high speed internet and broadband connections. Rather than relying on taxpayer dollars to fund the expansion, it allows Wisconsin’s local telephone cooperatives to use their own earnings to develop these new technologies for their communities.
“Both of these bills seek to expand economic development opportunities throughout the state by ensuring widespread broadband availability for businesses, schools, and consumers,” said Bill Oemichen, President and CEO of the Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives, a lead partner in Develop Wisconsin.
Oemichen said the irony of the pending broadband legislative packages is that those interests pushing for state taxpayer-funded incentives for broadband deployment are the same big out-of-state-telecommunications conglomerates that are opposed to allowing telephone cooperatives to use their own financial resources to make the same investments.
“We support the Broadband Deployment Act, but we also firmly believe that to achieve widespread broadband access throughout the state, the Legislature must also pass the Develop Wisconsin Act,” Oemichen said. “This is simply a matter of fairness. Economic development and educational opportunities should not be placed in jeopardy because telecommunications companies don’t want to make the investments and cooperatives aren’t allowed to make them.”
Current PSC rules prohibit telephone cooperatives in Wisconsin from investing retained earnings in technologies outside telephone service. As technology advances, services such as high speed internet, digital cable, and wireless service are falling into the world of service provided by telephone companies. Wisconsin is the only state where cooperatives are prohibited from reinvesting their earnings in upgrading their infrastructure. Cooperatives in all 49 other states can make these investments.
“We’re simply trying to meet the demands of our business and residential customers for access to the latest technology,” said Dave Lull, manager of Richland-Grant and LaValle Telephone Cooperatives. “We’re not asking for state dollars or tax incentives to make these improvements. We just want to be able to use the resources we already have. It is legal in 49 other states, then why not Wisconsin?”
There are 11 telephone cooperatives in the state serving customers from as far south as Grant County to as far north as Bayfield County. In communities across Wisconsin, large telecommunications companies like Century Tel, Verizon, and TDS have made the business decision not to provide services, or if they do, they have made the services cost-prohibitive for the community. For these reasons, telephone cooperatives were created to serve rural areas where telecommunications companies decided it was not cost effective to provide services to the residents.
For more information on SB 111 – the Develop Wisconsin Bill – or to find out more about Develop Wisconsin, visit our website at www.developwisconsin.com.