FRI AM News: WisBusiness: the Podcast with Jim Kaput, Vydiant; Strand says under- and unserved areas in Wisconsin could have broadband by 2030

— This week’s episode of “WisBusiness: the Podcast” is with Jim Kaput, co-founder and chief science officer for Vydiant. 

This California business is a member of BioForward Wisconsin, and lists the UW-Madison Department of Food Science among its support network. Kaput, who’s based in Madison, says the company is actively building relationships in the state, and the Concordia University School of Pharmaceutical Sciences uses its OneHealth Pro software application for certain students. 

The podcast highlights the company’s approach to improving health through understanding various lifestyle factors, as well as how it leverages AI and other technologies. 

“We know that chronic diseases are caused by contributions of your genes and your medical condition, but also 60% of chronic diseases are caused by lifestyle and behavior,” Kaput said. “And yet, if you go to your medical records, there’s no data on what you eat, what your physical activity is, what your social activity is, stress, sleep.” 

He argues the health care system essentially ignores those variables, focusing on the biological aspects of health without the important context of these contributing factors. 

Vydiant’s OneHealth app is available for free now, and the company aims to get it integrated with health systems’ medical records systems, Kaput said. 

“That serves two functions. One, it disseminates those questions and gathering of that data to hundreds of millions of people,” he said, noting Epic alone now has 250 million people in its system. “So, we believe that getting them in will allow more people to give the lifestyle data to their electronic medical records.” 

Using that behavioral data along with traditional medical records, the company will analyze how treatments can be “best targeted to the individual,” he said. 

“We can say, given your condition, these are the actions that you can take to manage your health, to maintain it, or to reduce the symptoms of your condition,” he said. 

Listen to the podcast and see the full list of podcasts. See the company’s new website

— In a “very conservative” estimate, Public Service Commission Chair Summer Strand at a WisPolitics luncheon said she believes every underserved and unserved location in Wisconsin would have broadband access by 2030.

Since 2019, the state has invested roughly $200 million in broadband and is receiving $1.1 billion from the federal government. Strand said the PSC is hoping to start making the federal grant money available for the buildout in early 2025. 

The PSC’s broadband office is currently working with their partners at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to create an accurate list of underserved and unserved locations in Wisconsin.

Over 410,000 homes and businesses in Wisconsin have seen new or improved high-speed internet access since 2019. However, Strand said the remaining locations are the hardest to reach and most expensive to build up.

“It is becoming harder to reach the remote locations that are left,” Strand said yesterday.

Strand also said the PSC did not take a position on the “right of first refusal” bill — one of the most lobbied-on bills of the session. While Strand said it is hard for her, personally, not to have strong feelings on the issue given her background in construction, the PSC didn’t weigh in on the bill because “policy decisions are best left to the Legislature.”

But she noted transmission infrastructure is essential.

“We cannot have the green energy transition without transmission, it’s an essential piece,” she said. “Our infrastructure is aging, transmission infrastructure needs modernization, we need grid modernization, we need grid expansion, we need the internet connection cue to get going at the regional transmission level, we need the seams to talk together.” 

The bill passed the Assembly but was not voted on before the Senate adjourned. The measure would have given utilities already doing business in Wisconsin the right of first refusal to construct, own and maintain a new transmission line that connects to one of their existing ones.

Strand also said she is concerned with stress and added duties for PSC staffers, who often move on to a higher-paying utility job. She said the commission may be requesting more positions and would like to see pay increases for staff.

“Our staff is very professional and very dedicated,” Strand said. “But the workload is staggeringly significant. I worry about burnout more than anything else.”

See WisconsinEye video

— Wisconsin’s unemployment rate remained unchanged over the month at 2.9% in May even as the state set new records for total employment and private sector jobs. 

The state Department of Workforce Development yesterday released the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, showing Wisconsin employment hit a new high of 3,048,000 in May, marking an increase of 6,500 over the year. 

Meanwhile, private sector jobs also hit a new record of 2,630,300 in May, DWD reports. That’s an increase of 25,100 over the year, according to the release. 

Much like the unemployment rate, the state’s labor force participation rate held at 65.6% in May, above the national rate of 62.5%. Wisconsin’s unemployment rate for May was below the national rate of 4%. 

Scott Hodek, section chief of DWD’s Office of Economic Advisors, yesterday highlighted the year-over-year employment increase in the health care and social assistance sector during an online briefing. The sector added 10,800 jobs over the year, reaching 419,500 in May. 

“While I’m speculating a little bit on the overall reason, I think it’s fair to assume that at least part of that is simply due to an aging population, which requires more and more health care,” he said. 

See the release

— Wisconsin Technology Council President Tom Still warns that taking a state-by-state approach to regulating AI could result in a “hodge-podge” of laws that puts some people and businesses at a competitive disadvantage. 

In a recent column, Still highlighted state-level efforts to get ahead of the rapidly evolving artificial intelligence industry, noting about 400 bills have been introduced or enacted around the country. While California alone has about 50 AI-related bills under consideration, he says Wisconsin may be among the states taking a “more deliberate” path to regulating the technology.  

“Delaware plans to create a bipartisan commission with both public and private members to recommend regulatory paths, and Wisconsin appears to be doing much the same,” he wrote. “Through the Legislative Council, a non-partisan service arm of the Wisconsin Legislature since 1947, a study committee has been established.” 

The committee is charged with reviewing uses of AI and making recommendations for its use and development, including its potential application in “disinformation and artificial imagery” and other high-risk uses, Still noted, though “high-risk” has yet to be defined in this context. 

Wisconsin also has several other designated AI committees: the 2023 Assembly Speaker’s Task Force on Artificial Intelligence, which held a series of public hearings on the topic; and the Governor’s Task Force on Workforce and Artificial Intelligence, which is set to deliver its final action plan in July. 

“Nvidia and other innovators have proven the market has embraced AI, a tech-blue genie that cannot be crammed back into the bottle,” he wrote. “The trick will be adopting regulations that don’t shut down legitimate needs and opportunities while keeping deep fakes, disinformation and privacy breaches at a minimum.” 

Read the full column

— An endowment of the Medical College of Wisconsin is putting $50 million into efforts to improve hypertension control, childhood behavioral health and the health care workforce. 

The Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment aims to advance these focus areas in the state over the next five to 10 years, according to Executive Director Dr. Jesse Ehrenfeld. He spoke yesterday at AHW’s Advancing Health for ALL Wisconsin conference in Green Bay, according to a release from MCW. 

“This landmark investment aims to significantly move the needle and create positive, sustainable change in several areas with the greatest opportunity for impact,” he said in a statement. 

The announcement notes 2024 is the 20th anniversary of the endowment’s stewardship of funding provided to MCW when Blue Cross & Blue Shield United of Wisconsin became a for-profit entity. Since 2004, AHW says it has invested more than $338 million across hundreds of projects. 

See the endowment’s latest five-year plan document, and see more in the release

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