— PSC Chair Rebecca Cameron Valcq says about 650,000 Wisconsin residents still lack access to broadband infrastructure and a similar number can’t afford it.
Appearing yesterday in a WisconsinEye interview, Valcq provided an update on Wisconsin’s efforts to expand broadband access to more state residents. Since 2019, the state has invested nearly $200 million to connect about 300,000 more residents and businesses, she said.
Despite that progress being made, the latest estimate of residents lacking broadband is higher now than last year, when state officials estimated about 400,000 residents didn’t have access to high-speed broadband internet.
“That’s because as we get more data in about coverage at the granular level, we’re able to drill down and better estimate how many people don’t have that access,” Valcq said. “We need to be able to use the funding available to us at the PSC as more of a scalpel approach, to make sure we’re really, really honing in on the areas that still lack that access.”
Broadband access varies widely across the state, though a PSC map shows fixed internet speeds tend to be lower in areas scattered around the northern half of the state. Valcq noted both urban and rural parts of Wisconsin face their own challenges with boosting broadband.
The latest state biennial budget allocated $129 million to broadband expansion, while Gov. Tony Evers added another $100 million in federal funds to that effort. The PSC recently announced it received 194 applications requesting about $495 million through the state’s Broadband Expansion Grant Program and will be awarding $100 million in grants this summer.
“So the need continues to be there,” Valcq said. “I have said and I will continue to say, this is more than just a money problem. We have to come up with ways to be innovative.”
While Valcq noted underground fiber connections remain “the gold standard” for broadband infrastructure, she added it’s not a feasible option for certain areas of the state. She said that’s where technologies such as satellite internet and fixed wireless options come into play.
In rural parts of the state, she explained the topography and sparse population density remain a major challenge. She said that’s why “we haven’t seen a lot of really active or robust investment” by internet service providers, as it takes longer for them to get a return on their investment.
At the same time, more populated parts of Wisconsin are limited by infrastructure “that isn’t up to what it should be,” including places like Brown, Dane and Milwaukee counties, she said.
“We hear all of the time, yes the infrastructure is there but we’re not able to stream,” she said. “We’re not able to participate in teleworking, or our kids aren’t able to attend school virtually. That’s an access issue.”
Watch the full interview here: https://wiseye.org/2022/03/28/newsmakers-public-service-commission-updates-with-chairperson-valcq/
— A Milwaukee startup called 2ft. Design Data is kicking off a seed funding round with a $50,000 investment from the Doyenne Group’s Evergreen Fund.
The company is developing a virtual “toolbox” used for planning development projects that’s meant for small to medium firms with a focus on social impact and community building, according to a release.
“With the focus of real estate investors turning towards more environmentally and socially responsible opportunities, investment in our success will allow entrepreneurial developers to take advantage of that trend,” company founder and CEO Rebecca Holderness said in a statement.
The release shows the business continues to build the software platform and bring customers onboard as it raises more funds for the ongoing round.
The Doyenne Evergreen fund was launched in 2018 by the Madison-based nonprofit organization, which aims to support female and minority entrepreneurs. Prior reports have shown the majority of early-stage business leaders raising funds in the state and nationally are men.
With this latest investment, all dollars raised for the fund have now been allocated to Wisconsin ventures, the release shows, most of which were led by women.
The group says the Evergreen Fund included funds from Madison, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., the Craig & Kathryn Hall Foundation and other foundations and individuals. The fund has awarded $450,000 in total to 38 companies, according to Doyenne Executive Director and co-founder Heather Wentler.
Based on funding applications, 86 percent of the funded ventures were led by women while 17 percent were led by men, the release shows. Thirty-one percent were led by entrepreneurs who are Black, indigenous or people of color, 48 percent were led by white individuals, and 21 percent chose not to provide this information.
Listen to a WisBusiness.com podcast Wentler: https://www.wisbusiness.com/2021/wisbusiness-the-podcast-with-heather-wentler-executive-director-and-co-founder-of-doyenne/
— The Department of Natural Resources is asking for comments on Fincantieri Marinette Marine’s application to join the agency’s Green Tier environmental improvement program.
The company’s Marinette shipbuilding facility has over 1,500 employees and includes over 700,000 square feet of manufacturing, warehouse and receiving space, the DNR release shows. If the application is approved, the facility will join the program at the Tier 1 level, which involves implementing a environmental management system aimed at “continual environmental improvement.”
Participants set out a plan with specific goals, and agree to have the system audited at regular intervals. According to the release, the Marinette facility has already created an environmental management system.
Going forward, the company’s goals include reducing water and energy consumption along with improving “environmental awareness” among its employees.
The DNR will be accepting public comments on the application through April 27, the release shows.
— The DNR also announced Kinnard Farms in Kewaunee County will be required to conduct groundwater monitoring as part of a modified CAFO permit.
Concentrated animal feeding operations, also known as CAFOs, have received criticism for their environmental impacts as more manure is produced by a large number of cows in a relatively smaller area. Pro-CAFO advocates have argued attempts to increase regulation of these farms are harmful to the agriculture industry.
The agency says information provided during public comment periods led it to determine that groundwater monitoring at several manure-spreading sites “is warranted and practical.” The DNR also says the farm size is capped at just under 8,000 cows, which it says is similar to the farm’s current size. The modified CAFO permit will expire in January, according to a release.
— A new report from the State Council on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse recommends various changes, including raising the price of alcohol and boosting alcohol taxes, to reduce excessive drinking in Wisconsin.
In a release announcing the report, the group notes Wisconsin’s alcohol sales and related deaths have been increasing in recent years.
Prior reports have also identified an increase in alcohol sales in the state during the pandemic.
While the report highlights 61 different policy and system changes aimed at lowering alcohol consumption, key recommendations include: raising the price of alcohol; reducing the density of vendors selling alcohol; compliance checks to ensure underage residents aren’t buying alcohol; community outreach to identify hotspots for excessive drinking; and screenings and interventions for heavy drinkers who may need treatment.
Others include: banning beer bongs and other drinking competitions; requiring ethics code training for elected and appointed officials overseeing alcohol-related issues; raising alcohol taxes; repealing a law that allows underage drinking in the presence of a parent, guardian or spouse, and many more.
Data from the Department of Health Services show Wisconsin’s rates of alcohol use and binge drinking in recent years have exceeded the national average, while fewer residents “perceive great risk” from weekly binge drinking.
“This report helps us see how we can make our communities safer and protect people from a path to addiction as well as reduce operating while intoxicated (OWI), alcohol- related fatalities, violence, and suicide, among other harms,” Roger Frings, chair of the SCAODA, said in the release.
The SCAODA Prevention Committee appointed an Alcohol Prevention Ad Hoc Workgroup to create the report. It was chaired by Maureen Busalacchi, director of the Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project in the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Comprehensive Injury Center.
See the report, “Moving Forward: Policies and Strategies to Prevent and Reduce Excessive Alcohol Use in Wisconsin,” here: https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/scaoda/alcohol-prevention-report.pdf
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— Greg Marcus, president and CEO of the Milwaukee-based Marcus Corporation, said there’s still a long road ahead for movie theaters to fully recover from the pandemic.
“It is coming back,” Marcus said on WISN’s “UpFront,” produced in partnership with WisPolitics.com. “Am I comfortable where it is? No, because I want it to keep getting better. I think people expect things to turn around like this, and it’s a multi-year road back for us.”
Marcus oversees the fourth-largest theater group in the country, with 85 theaters in 17 states.
“The other challenge we have is just getting movies made,” Marcus said. “The pandemic just didn’t affect people going to do things, it affected the actual production of movies. And one of the studios moved a bunch of release dates recently, and it’s because they just can’t get things finished. The post-production houses, I’ve been told, are just jammed up.”
Marcus said the company is continually evolving to enhance the moving-going experience. The company’s latest report to investors this past month noted it has invested some $580 million in the past decade to modernize the experience.
“We are in a battle against the couch,” Marcus said. “That is our biggest competition.”
Marcus also noted the ongoing conversations with movie studios and lobbying to ensure movie theaters get the first release before streaming services, a move that gained popularity during the pandemic.
“When you come to a theater, obviously the price of a ticket is more expensive,” Marcus said. “Well the studios get a huge chunk of that, and so for them if they give up a chunk of revenue, they then have to make it up in streaming, and I’m not so sure the economics actually support that.”
Watch the program:
# Fewer Wisconsin high school students are going to college. A hot labor market may be the reason.
# ‘A pivotal moment’: Design team tapped for new $120 million Wisconsin history museum
# Molson Coors ordered to pay $56 million in Stone trademark dispute
– DNR approves Kinnard Farms permit with restrictions
– Over 5,000 chickens lost in Columbia County barn fire
– Kinnard Farms receives DNR wastewater permit
– DNR issues expansion permit for Kewaunee Co. farm
– Marquette University prohibits endowment from direct investments in fossil fuels
– Hazardous roads, potential flooding as ‘prolonged period of precipitation’ hits Wisconsin
# FOOD AND BEVERAGE
– The Buzz: Renovations underway at Waverly Beach Bar & Grill in Menasha
# HEALTH CARE
– Michels family funds $15M cancer research initiative at Medical College of Wisconsin
– Michels Family Foundation gives $15 million to fund cancer research at Medical College of Wisconsin
– Data shows Wisconsin making progress in attracting venture capital
# REAL ESTATE
– Subdivision development’s taxes could help Menomonee Falls clean landfill
– Caledonia speculative industrial project seeks interest from 414 area code
– Marketing push ramps up to sell shuttered Villard Avenue theater
– San Francisco Investment firm spends $24 million on three Milwaukee industrial properties
– Milwaukee Brewers valuation grows 5% under new CBA: Where it ranks among MLB teams
# PRESS RELEASES
<i>See these and other press releases: