Develop Wisconsin: Senator Brown Works to Connect Wisconsin

Contact: Joshua Morby (414) 791-9120

Telephone Co-Ops Must Be Given Opportunity to Expand Services

MADISON – Support for broadband technology and high speed internet throughout Wisconsin received another boost Sunday when State Sen. Ron Brown (R-Eau Claire) announced plans to combine the Broadband Deployment Act with the Develop Wisconsin Act.

Combining the two bills will help ensure economic development throughout all of Wisconsin, including in rural areas where telephone co-operatives are often the only providers of high speed internet, digital cable, and wireless services, said Bill Oemichen, President and CEO of the Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives, a lead partner in Develop Wisconsin

“Senator Brown recognizes the important role that telephone co-ops play in providing services to rural Wisconsin, and we thank him for working to combine these two bills,” Oemichen said. “In order for Wisconsin to compete in the global economy, it’s vital that the Legislature not discriminate against providers willing to provide technology to all parts of the state. That’s why we must pass both of these bills and make sure we give telephone co-ops the opportunity to grow their business.”

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.

Oemichen also thanked State Sen. Ted Kanavas (R – Brookfield), who has fought long and hard for all Wisconsin citizens to have access to advanced technologies such as high speed Internet access. Kanavas is a leader and co-sponsor for both pieces of legislation. “It’s encouraging that forward thinking legislators like Sen. Kanavas recognize the importance of broadband access for all of Wisconsin. By supporting both pieces of legislation Sen. Kanavas has shown that he supports economic development in all of Wisconsin,” Oemichen said.

Current PSC rules prohibit telephone cooperatives in Wisconsin from investing their 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.

“It seems to me that (it’s unfair) to pass this bill that provides for the expansion of broadband and not to allow the co-ops access to their capital to do it,” Brown told the Eau Claire Leader Telegram.

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 Act – or to find out more about Develop Wisconsin, visit our website at