MON AM News: Senator says broadband funding offers chance for bipartisanship; Decision to end in-person classes at UW-Platteville Richland faces pushback

— The chair of the state Senate Utilities and Technology Committee says the unprecedented level of broadband funding coming to Wisconsin presents a chance for bipartisanship. 

Speaking Friday at a conference in Brookfield hosted by the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, Sen. Julian Bradley noted the state could see as much as $1.2 billion for broadband from one element of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The federal law’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program provides more than $42 billion nationwide for projects aimed at expanding high-speed internet access. 

“So there’s a significant amount of money that’s going to be coming in,” the Franklin Republican said. “How that’s going to be spent? Where that’s going to be spent? There’s a lot of questions about that and divided government certainly poses an opportunity for both parties to come together.” 

He added broadband access is important for every Senate and Assembly district in the state, and said he and his Dem colleagues in the GOP-dominated Legislature have a solid working relationship with open lines of communication. 

But he acknowledged the challenge that some legislators “may have very different ideas” about how federal funding should be used than Dem. Gov Tony Evers. He urged attendees to advocate with their representatives in the Legislature, the state Public Service Commission, the Wisconsin Broadband Office and the governor’s office. 

“If we get enough money to cover almost everything, then the question isn’t which projects, it’s what order?” he said. “When do we get to those people? And that’s the next question that needs to be answered.” 

Bradley argued broadband funding should be prioritized for rural areas with few to no options, rather than “completely upgrading” infrastructure for areas that are already connected. 

“The focus should be, and hopefully will continue to be, on getting to rural customers … It is just absolutely critical and crucial that we get our rural folks connected to the internet so they don’t fall too far behind,” he said, pointing to the state’s western and northern regions in particular.  

When asked about adding a state requirement for matching funds for broadband projects, Bradley said he liked the idea of communities having “skin in the game” with investment from all parties. But he emphasized the importance of flexibility in funding allocation, and said the PSC should be trusted as an expert steward. 

He explained the state’s broadband grant program doesn’t spell out a specific requirement for matching funds. While projects that do include such funding are weighed more heavily in a scoring framework, he said, those that don’t aren’t automatically disqualified. 

“With the amount of money that’s coming in … we are going to get close to full connectivity — as close as we can imagine, anyway,” he said. “And the people that we don’t hit, the few that we miss, are going to be special on-off projects that we’re going to need that additional flexibility.” 

See more on the BEAD funding coming to the state: 

— A western Wisconsin community is pushing back against the UW System decision to end in-person instruction at UW-Platteville Richland, with some arguing the two-year campus was undermined.

The Richland Center campus’ enrollment was at just 51 full time equivalent students this fall. UW System President Jay Rothman directed UW-Platteville’s interim chancellor to begin planning the switch to online instruction in November. The system currently has a 75-year lease on the campus building through 2042 with a total cost of $75.

But Richland County Board Vice-Chair Shaun Murphy-Lopez told it has been “a struggle” to have direct communication with UW System decision-makers, encouraging conversation with UW-Platteville employees rather than directly with the UW System.

“I think they’ve wanted to put UW-Platteville staff between us,” he said. 

He said although he doesn’t speak for the entire board, he cites a dismissiveness of their concerns that he thinks UW-Platteville Richland students felt when they met with Rothman in December to plead their case. 

But he said lines of communication are starting to open up. The local community on Thursday held an informational session and town hall on the decision with UW System Vice President for University Relations Jeff Buhrandt as Rothman’s representative as well as Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, and Rep. Tony Kurtz, R-Wonewoc. Gov. Tony Evers was also invited, but was not in attendance.

See the full story: 

— A total of 221,128 state residents signed up for health insurance through in the latest open enrollment period, federal officials announced. 

According to a release from the state Office of the Commissioner of Insurance, that’s the highest enrollment total for Wisconsin since the open enrollment for 2018, marking an 8,919 increase over the previous period. 

The final open enrollment snapshot from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services covers the entire period from Nov. 1 to Jan. 15. OCI notes some people might qualify for special enrollment periods this year due to various factors, such as losing health coverage or getting married. 

Insurance Commissioner Nathan Houdek touted the impact of the Health Care Coverage Partnership, noting it has “helped connect stakeholders across the state to enroll more Wisconsinites in this coverage.” 

This effort, launched by Gov. Tony Evers in 2019, created the site in 2020 to provide enrollment information. OCI says more than 43,000 people visited this site during the latest open enrollment. 

“Certified application counselors, navigators, and insurance agents all pitched in throughout this period to connect consumers with the right health coverage and we are grateful to all the individuals around the state who helped get more people covered,” Houdek said in a release. 

See the final CMS snapshot: 

See the OCI release: 

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

— A CDC study that relied on Marshfield Clinic Research Institute data found household flu transmission in the second flu season of the COVID-19 pandemic was higher than the pre-pandemic rate. 

<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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