State could see over $1 billion in broadband help from federal infrastructure law

Wisconsin could get more than $1 billion in broadband help from the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, according to a PSC official. 

Rory Tikalsky, broadband expansion manager for the Public Service Commission, gave the new estimate yesterday during an event in Appleton hosted by the New North and Competitive Wisconsin. is a partner in the CWI series. 

He discussed the funds Wisconsin can expect to receive out of the $65 billion national broadband allocation from the infrastructure law. 

Of that total, about $42 billion is for the Broadband, Equity and Access Deployment program, Tikalsy explained. This funding was announced last fall, and the state last week submitted the application for Wisconsin’s portion. If approved, he said the next nine months or so will be used to develop a strategy and understand local needs before moving forward with a plan for the funds. 

“Once that plan’s in place, we will submit it to the federal government, they’ll review it … and then we’ll start with the process where we’ll start developing our program to allocate funding,” he said yesterday. “That can be about a four, five-year implementation.” 

He added the federal government is expected to provide $5 million to Wisconsin for planning purposes, possibly as soon as October. 

Tikalsky also touched on potential funding from other elements of the infrastructure law, such as a digital equity component providing about $3 billion nationally and a “middle mile” program providing $1 billion to states. Between those two programs, he said Wisconsin could see as much as $45 million in the coming years, but he noted states will be competing for grants from both. 

Still some panelists said it may not be enough. One speaker from Brown County, August Neverman, director of broadband for the county and the Brown County Community Area Network fiber system, said the funds are “going to get us farther than we are today, guaranteed.” But he added he wasn’t sure how “far down the road” to full coverage the state will go with this funding, highlighting the high cost of laying down new connections. 

“I think every provider here who might not agree on everything will agree, that if you had enough cash, you could make it happen, right?” he said. “You could build out everywhere if you had enough cash.” 

Celeste Flynn, director of state and government affairs for Charter Communications, said the company has been “really busy” trying to expand broadband service throughout the state. She said the company is focused on reaching individual homes and doesn’t want to leave anyone out. 

“Let’s get service to the people who don’t have access to service,” she said. “Let me run a cost estimate, and whatever that cost estimate is, let’s find a way. Whether it’s using federal dollars, ARPA dollars, Cares Act dollars, state broadband dollars — let’s find a way to get them service.” 

In order for the state to get the federal broadband funds, Tikalsky explained Wisconsin has to present a plan for getting everyone in the state to the federally defined broadband internet speed of 25 megabits per second download and three megabits per second upload by 2028. 

“That’s the five-year implementation plan, that’s the structure the federal government has given us, we’re doing everything in our capacity … to develop a plan to meet that goal,” he said, adding “it could even be less” than five years. 

Neverman said he’s “not quite as optimistic” about that timeline, but said meticulous planning and mapping will help with the effort. 

At one point in the discussion, Wisconsin State Telecommunications Association Executive Director Bill Esbeck and Design Nine Senior Broadband Analyst Jack Maytum clashed over whether further “middle mile” development is needed in certain areas of the state’s northeast region. This refers to sections of a central telecommunications network that connect to smaller local networks. Esbeck said much of the region is already served by existing capacity. .

While Esbeck argued it would be “a colossal waste of money” to build out more middle-mile networks in certain parts of northeastern Wisconsin, Maytum said one such proposal aims to meet the future needs of local areas. 

“While we recognize that there is some capacity now, we think there is certainly room for additional capacity in the future,” he said. 

Watch a video of the discussion here: 

See the Wisconsin Broadband Office site: 

–By Alex Moe