PSC: Year of Broadband Access ensuring broadband for Wisconsin students

By State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Jill Underly and Public Service Commission Chairperson Rebecca Cameron Valcq
Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and the Public Service Commission (PSC) are excited to welcome students and educators back to classrooms and libraries for the 2021-2022 academic school year. Over the past several months, as part of Governor Tony Evers declaring 2021 the ‘Year of Broadband Access,’ the Evers Administration and the State of Wisconsin made substantial and historic investments for high-speed broadband access to close the digital divide and provide students and their families the opportunities they deserve. Students are more prepared to tackle the school year both in-person and remotely, thanks to the investments made. 
Last year, as the pandemic forced schools to switch to virtual learning options, many school districts struggled to find the necessary equipment and service to study remotely. Although many businesses and broadband providers offered short-term solutions that allowed students and teachers to get online quickly, communities still experienced limitations such as slow speeds, data caps, and high costs. When there is a lack of internet connection and devices, students studying remotely lack the resources they need. 
A DPI survey conducted last school year showed more than 82,000 children in Wisconsin did not have reliable internet access in their homes. Statistics show that when students and educators have access to digital literacy, they can expand instruction beyond the traditional classroom and provide more customized learning opportunities to gain high-quality, low-cost, and personally relevant educational material.
Connectivity problems that existed before the need for virtual options were only amplified during the pandemic. DPI and the PSC took the opportunity to work together and provide additional state and federal resources to unserved and underserved communities. 
Since Governor Evers took office, the PSC has awarded more than $52 million in state funding for expanding high-speed broadband internet. In addition to state dollars, Governor Evers allocated $5.3 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) funding and $100 million of Wisconsin’s American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funding to expand high-speed internet to some of the areas hardest to serve. Altogether, the investments made have provided, or are going to provide, more than 300,000 homes and businesses with access to new or improved service. Over the next two years, Governor Evers has allocated $129 million for the Broadband Expansion Grant Program to further reach the state’s goal of 100% connectivity by 2025.
Wisconsin continues to invest in broadband expansion while keeping an eye on access and affordability. DPI and the PSC have a strong partnership with a common goal: to break down barriers to broadband access and connect all students and their families to high-speed internet. The progress made thus far has been a success; communities are starting to reach their full potential, and students and their families can finally utilize the benefits of broadband access. There is more work to be done, and we are excited to undertake it.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the PSC, DPI, or any other individual Commissioner.