MON AM News: Cost to bring broadband to all corners of state a moving target; Report highlights Milwaukee education issues

— In May 2021, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimated it would cost up to $1.4 billion to extend broadband to the roughly 7 percent of Wisconsinites without access.

Fast forward 19 months and hundreds of millions in pledged work to expand infrastructure through both public and private dollars, and experts still can’t seem to say exactly what the final price tag will be or when full access will be accomplished. 

That’s, in part, because getting to 100 percent coverage has become a moving target.

The FCC includes access to satellite broadband when it calculates coverage, something the state Public Service Commission does not. The target for coverage was once download speeds of 25 Mbps and 3 Mbps for uploads, but that’s now become 100 and 20. And it’s not just about having infrastructure to every doorstep in Wisconsin; it’s about people being able to afford the service.

The state recently announced nearly $6 million in federal grants to help with the deployment and adoption of “affordable, equitable and reliable” high-speed internet through the state. The money, according to advocates, will help create a map over the next five years of how to reach full coverage in Wisconsin, how much it will cost to get there, and how to make it affordable.

And Gov. Tony Evers touted the possibility it could draw as much as $1.1 billion in federal funds to help expand coverage across Wisconsin.

“We know digital divides are holding our communities back in more ways than one,” Evers said during the announcement of the grant. “If we want every Wisconsinite to be connected, we have to break down barriers in access and affordability.”

During deliberations on the state budget, the LFB prepared an overview of the PSC’’s broadband expansion grant program, which first handed out money in the 2013-14 fiscal year. That memo noted the FCC’s map of high-speed internet coverage found 93.2 percent of Wisconsin had access to 25/3 coverage, though only 64.4 percent subscribed to it.

That same memo noted the challenge in estimating the cost to provide service at speeds of 25/3 to all Wisconsin residents. PSC staff had estimated it to be $700 million to $1.4 billion with the state’s share in the range of $200 million to $700 million. It also noted the FCC mapping data overstates the availability of broadband.

So when the updated FCC map now showed 98.3 percent of Wisconsin with 25/3 access, the PSC has a different take.

See the full story at 

— Recent progress being made in improving public high school graduation rates in Milwaukee was largely wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent Wisconsin Policy Forum report. 

The group’s latest report is focused on postsecondary education readiness in Wisconsin’s largest metro area. Along with rates of college graduation and enrollment in Milwaukee, it explored the impact of the pandemic on high school graduation. 

While the percentage of Milwaukee public school students graduating within four years had risen from 63.5 percent in 2017 to 70 percent in 2019, report authors found that progress “was largely erased, at least in the short term” due to COVID-19. High school completion rates fell to 64.1 percent in 2021, the report shows. 

Meanwhile, WPF also found less than half of these grads are enrolling in college right after high school. And only a third of college students in the area are graduating on time. 

Even before the pandemic, postsecondary education enrollment in Milwaukee had been dropping, from 48.5 percent in 2017 to 36.1 percent in 2020. WPF says this trend is “at least partially due to” more Black, Hispanic and low-income students graduating high school but not enrolling in college the next fall. 

Report authors say their findings “support calls for youth to receive postsecondary readiness services that seek to increase both college enrollment and completion rates.” 

The report draws on data from the southeast Wisconsin Higher Education Regional Alliance, showing no student group included in the analysis had an on-time completion rate for college above 50 percent. 

Despite some recent improvements, WPF notes that students in programs shorter than four years, Pell Grant recipients, male students, as well as Black and Hispanic students “still experience the lowest rates” of completing college. 

“These low and persistently disparate college completion rates are particularly concerning given the region’s expected growth in occupations requiring a college degree and the material difference in median earnings between Milwaukee County residents with and without postsecondary degrees,” they wrote. 

See the full report: 

— Researchers developing lightweight bulletproof material and a less painful diagnostic test have been selected for the 2022 WARF Innovation Award. 

The two winning teams were chosen by an independent panel of judges from a group of six finalists. Those finalists came from a pool of hundreds of inventions submitted to the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation in the prior year. Awardees each receive a $10,000 prize. 

“Our Innovation Awards recognize some of the most exciting early-stage discoveries on campus,” WARF CEO Erik Iverson said in a release. “We’re pleased to celebrate the nominees and the transformative work taking place across the UW-Madison community.”

Ramathasan Thevamaran, an engineering physics professor, and postdoctoral researcher Jizhe Cai are being recognized for creating a new material designed to protect against bullets and other high-speed impacts. It’s constructed with carbon nanotubes, which are tiny molecules made of sheets of carbon atoms. 

According to the release from WARF, the material “shows unprecedented strength and a superior ability to protect against high-impact ballistics.” 

The other winning team includes Profs. Sara McCoy and Miriam Shelef, who specialize in rheumatology; Michael Newton, a professor of biostatistics and medical informatics; and statistics graduate student Zihao Zheng. They have created a new diagnostic test for an immune system disorder called Sjögren’s syndrome.

These scientists have discovered a set of “autoantibodies” related to the progression of this disease, which can be used to diagnose it without the current standard lip biopsy. 

See the release: 

— Common Ground Healthcare Cooperative has announced plans to form a new charitable foundation to support community initiatives. 

The chair of the Brookfield-based health insurer’s board of directors, Amy Murphy, says creating a foundation will “enable us to do more as a partner with community organizations that are helping people gain a foothold when they meet an obstacle with their health or finances.”

According to a release, the cooperative has previously worked with the Dohmen Company Foundation on a program to provide free healthy meals to people with diabetes. Murphy says the foundation would look to partner with other organizations on similar health-related efforts.  

The new foundation’s board met for the first time in early November, and plans to provide its initial grants in mid-2023, according to the release. 

See more details on the cooperative here: 

<br><b><i>Top headlines from the Health Care Report … </b></i> 

— Wisconsin is expected to get $173 million through a recently finalized opioid settlement with CVS and Walgreens, according to the state Department of Justice. 

And researchers at UW-Madison have found racial, gender and economic disparities in which patients get treatment for a type of abnormal heart rhythm called ventricular tachycardia. 

<i>For more of the most relevant news on COVID-19, reports on groundbreaking health research in Wisconsin, links to top stories and more, sign up today for the free daily Health Care Report from and</i>

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