WED AM News: State could see over $1 billion in broadband help from federal infrastructure law; U.S. Venture, gener8tor announce new accelerator in Appleton

— 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: 

— U.S. Venture and gener8tor have announced a new investment accelerator program in Appleton. 

The program will provide funding and other support to startups in the United States and Canada working on sustainability and mobility. Those selected will each get $100,000 investments from U.S. Venture through gener8tor’s venture fund, according to a release. 

Participating companies and their founders will be required to relocate to Appleton for the 12-week program. 

In a joint statement, gener8tor co-founders Joe Kirgues and Troy Vosseller say the new program underlines U.S. Venture’s commitment to “building Wisconsin’s entrepreneurial ecosystem by attracting the best and brightest founders” to the Appleton area. 

Applications for the program are being accepted through Jan. 9, 2023. The gener8tor site says the program start and end dates are to be determined. 

See the release:

See more details and find the application here: 

— Harvesting of oats, potatoes and winter wheat is lagging slightly behind last year and the five-year average rate, a USDA report shows. 

According to the report from the agency’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, oats harvested for grain was at 66 percent on Sunday, which is two days behind last year and one day behind the five-year average. 

Potatoes were 15 percent harvested — 12 days behind last year and eight days behind the average. And winter wheat was 93 percent harvested, which is nine days behind last year and four days behind the average. 

Meanwhile, the report notes “much needed rain” fell across parts of northeastern Wisconsin last week, improving the condition of corn and soybeans. 

See the report: 

— Researchers from Epic and the University of Maryland found patients in the United States are tested for fentanyl in just 5 percent of overdose-related emergency department visits. 

The findings come on the heels of state health officials issuing a public health advisory warning of the dangers of fentanyl, which was identified in 91 percent of opioid overdose deaths in Wisconsin last year. That’s according to the state Department of Health Services, whose advisory also noted the number of fentanyl overdose deaths in Wisconsin nearly doubled from 2019 to 2021. 

Researchers at Epic in Verona as well as those at the University of Maryland’s Center for Substance Abuse Research looked at toxicology screening results from over 315,000 emergency department overdose visits between 2017 and August 2022. 

Along with the low rates of testing for fentanyl, they also found that when patients are tested for the powerful synthetic opioid, the positivity rate is over 40 percent. That’s triple the rate for other opiates including morphine, heroin and codeine, according to a release. 

Eric Wish, director of the Maryland research center and study co-author, says the findings point to the need for a “centralized overdose surveillance system and a nationwide standard for toxicology screenings” in overdose cases.  

And Dr. Dave Little, fellow co-author and director of clinical informatics at Epic, says such screenings are critical for saving lives in the emergency room as well as improving public health efforts. 

“We need to know precisely how people are struggling so that we can help them before their lives are on the line,” he said in the release.

See the study here: 

Find more details in the release: 

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