THU AM News: Brightspeed announces plan for Wisconsin fiber rollout; Baldwin, Johnson split on CHIPS Act vote

— A North Carolina company called Brightspeed says it will bring high-speed internet to 70,000 residential and business locations across 15 Wisconsin counties by the end of 2023. 

Brightspeed yesterday announced its fiber network build plans for the state, which include adding services in Ashland, Bayfield, Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Douglas, Grant, Green Lake, Jackson, La Crosse, Lafayette, Marinette, Monroe, Outagamie and Sauk counties. 

“A reliable, affordable broadband connection is a necessity to function and thrive in the modern economy, and the need for high-speed internet access is especially great in our rural areas,” Sherry Hessenthaler, operations strategy lead for Brightspeed, said in a release. 

The state Public Service Commission last month announced Brightspeed will receive about $1.5 million through Wisconsin’s Broadband Expansion Grant Program to connect 30 businesses and about 6,000 residential locations in Black Rivers Falls. 

“We’re excited to have received a sizable grant under the state’s Broadband Expansion Grant Program, and we look forward to pursuing future federal and state broadband grant opportunities,” Hessenthaler said. 

See the release: 

Find the full list of broadband grant recipients here: 

— U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson split on a vote that advanced a $280 billion bill to boost American semiconductor production and reduce reliance on imports.

Baldwin, D-Madison, in a 64-33 vote joined the majority in sending the CHIPS Act to the House for consideration. The bill would provide $52 billion in subsidies for domestic production and research. The goal is to improve U.S. production and supply chain resilience while decreasing the country’s reliance on semiconductors made in countries such as China and Taiwan. Johnson, R-Oshkosh, voted against the bill. 

The bill would also create a National Semiconductor Technology Center. Baldwin, who was part of the conference committee that worked to pass the measure, in a press release touted Wisconsin as a possible “growth center.”

“We are leaders in bioenergy research and water technology, so, Wisconsin is well positioned for growth in emerging industries,” she said. “Passing this legislation can really help support the STEM education we are providing and the R&D we are doing to create job growth for our state.” 

Johnson earlier this month said he believes the measure is full of “corporate welfare” spending he says will only increase inflationary problems. 

See the roll call: 

— Dozens of health professionals in Wisconsin have signed onto a letter urging federal officials to move forward on rules that would ban the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. 

The FDA in April announced the proposed rules, and is accepting public comments through Tuesday. The agency will conduct a review period before releasing the final rules, a release from the American Lung Association shows. 

“Finalizing these two rules would dramatically improve the health of many Americans and assist us in ensuring the well-being of our patients and the nation’s public health are protected,” the health professionals wrote. 

A total of 141 health professionals in Wisconsin signed the letter, including doctors, pharmacists, nurses, dentists, public health officials and others. They note menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars help the tobacco industry attract and addict teenagers, as more than half of smokers between 12 and 17 years old use menthol cigarettes. 

And the ALA release notes 30 percent of Black Wisconsin residents smoke compared to 12 percent of white state residents, which is “the largest gap in the nation.” CDC figures show menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars are smoked by Black U.S. residents at “significantly higher rates” than white U.S. residents, per the release. 

See the letter: 

See the release: 

— The state Department of Justice has announced multiple states have reached “an agreement in principle” on financial terms for a potential $4.25 billion settlement with opioid maker Teva. 

“This agreement, if finalized, will mark another significant step forward in bringing resources to Wisconsin for fighting this epidemic,” Attorney General Josh Kaul said yesterday in a statement.

DOJ says negotiations on “critical details of the settlement” with the Israel-based drug manufacturer are ongoing. The company produces two fentanyl products called Actiq and Fentora, branded as cancer pain treatments, as well as generic opioids such as oxycodone, the release shows. 

The 12 participating states allege that Teva promoted “potent, rapid-onset” fentanyl products for use by non-cancer patients, deceptively marketed their products by downplaying the risk of addiction among other actions, and failed to comply with certain order monitoring requirements along with a distributor called Anda. 

According to DOJ, parties have agreed on a set of financial terms, including Teva paying a maximum of $4.25 billion in cash over 13 years. That figure includes amounts the company has already agreed to pay through other settlements as well as options for states to receive anti-overdose medication naloxone from the company or a cash sum. 

When asked how much of the settlement will be coming to Wisconsin, a DOJ spokesperson said the agency doesn’t have that information as details of the agreement are still being worked out. DOJ also notes in its release the final settlement “remains contingent on agreement on critical business practice changes and transparency requirements.” 

States involved in the negotiations include Wisconsin, California, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Virginia, the release shows. 

In an update in March, the state Department of Health Services said Wisconsin is expected to receive funding from four opioid settlements, two of which have been finalized. The state will be getting over $400 million from separate settlements with three opioid distributors — Cardinal, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen — as well as manufacturer Johnson & Johnson. 

DHS said Wisconsin is receiving initial payments this year from the distributor settlement and the Johnson & Johnson settlements, with payments continuing for 18 years from the distributors and nine years from Johnson & Johnson. The agency said two other settlements are in the works with “varying and undetermined timelines.” 

See the release: 

— State officials have announced $2.5 million in grant funding for behavioral health providers to expand telehealth options in Wisconsin. 

According to a release from the Department of Health Services, 27 providers are getting one-time grants through American Rescue Plan Act funding. DHS says they will establish private telehealth stations in locations such as community centers, food pantries, homeless shelters, libraries, long-term care facilities and schools. 

Recipients including health care systems, counseling facilities and wellness centers are each getting up to $100,000 in telehealth funding, the release shows. 

See the list of grant awards: 

— UW Health has selected a Japanese company called Hitachi to provide proton therapy infrastructure at the UW Health Eastpark Medical Center being built in Madison. 

The hospital broke ground in May on the new medical center, expected to open in 2024. 

Hitachi will be providing UW Health with equipment and technology for use in proton therapy — a form of radiation therapy used to target and treat cancerous tumors. 

Dr. Paul Harari, a radiation oncologist for UW Health and chair of the Department of Human Oncology at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, says this selection marks an “important milestone to offer state-of-the-art proton therapy at UW Health.” 

See the release: 

— The Northwestern Mutual Foundation is making a $2 million donation to Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, a nonprofit charity that funds research into childhood cancers. 

According to a release from the Milwaukee-based financial services company, the funds will go toward the group’s Crazy 8 Initiative, which supports efforts to “accelerate the pace of new cure discovery” for specific, difficult-to-treat cancers. 

“In honor of our Childhood Cancer Program’s 10-year anniversary, we are proud to continue supporting Alex’s mission by investing in the Crazy 8 Initiative to advance the search for life-changing treatments and cures for families across the country,” said Steve Radke, the foundation’s president. 

See more on the Crazy 8 Initiative here: 

See the release: 

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