Another attempt to improve access, affordability of broadband internet in Milwaukee and statewide
The Public Service Commission (PSC) says it's making a new push to boost access to broadband internet in Wisconsin and to make sure the service is affordable.
In the last nine years the state has directed $300 M in grants aimed at improving broadband service. In just the last four years, about 400,000 people have been helped. But the state estimates there may another half-million homes and businesses without speedy access to the web.
Soon, the federal government will be offering many millions more in infrastructure dollars to states like Wisconsin, specifically targeted for achieving digital equity. So the PSC is shaping a plan as to how the state's share of the new funding could be used.
While attending a PSC listening session Tuesday in Milwaukee, Thami Hastings of the group Everyone On, says that even in pretty-well connected Milwaukee County, there are gaps.
"There are some areas in Milwaukee that there's no coverage, actually. So just because they are in the urban area, doesn't mean they have access to that, and even if they have access, doesn't mean they can afford that," Hastings says.
Hastings says one type of federal grant could lower the monthly internet bill for people who meet income guidelines.
Jim Flaherty, of AARP- Wisconsin, says there are many lower-income seniors without sufficient internet access.
"We're talking about things like trying to mitigate loneliness, connect with family members. That's a huge epidemic across this country. The other major issue is tele-health," Flaherty says.
Flaherty says in-person check-ins with doctors and nurses can be tough for seniors to accomplish in both rural areas, and cities, making online visits more important.
PSC Chairperson Becky Valcq says the federal money could help replace aging equipment in places like Milwaukee and help pinpoint smaller areas with poor service.
She'd also like for the state to have more consumer protection powers over what she says are the relatively few internet providers who break promises.
"We have, anecdotally, at the Commission heard from customers who received an advertised price, and the actual price is different. Same with the speed," Valcq tells WUWM.
But last week, Republicans controlling the Legislature's budget committee stripped away a governor's proposal to add a consumer protection position at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
Valcq says efforts will be made to put that position back into the proposed state budget. So that as the federal government funds more broadband access and affordability efforts here, the money doesn't go to waste through poor service when customers try to go online.