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WEDA Legislative Update                                                                                               May 11, 2017

 

Legislature's budget committee approves increased broadband expansion funding

The Legislature's budget-writing committee - the Joint Finance Committee (JFC)  - took action today to increase funding for the state's broadband expansion grant program. The JFC vote came one day after a stand alone broadband expansion bill (Assembly Bill 123) stalled in the state Senate due to a proposed "privacy" amendment.

Fortunately, given the importance of rural broadband access, instead of risking a prolonged debate on AB 123, the legislation was folded into the state budget bill on a unanimous vote by JFC. The provision is expected to survive the budget process and be singed into law by Gov. Scott Walker.

Under the budget provision approved today, $14 million would be available for broadband expansion grants in 2017-18, as opposed to the $1.5 million that is available under current law. In addition, funding for the program will be ongoing and will be set at a minimum of $2 million per year.

Similar to AB 123, which was strongly supported by WEDA,  the budget provision would make the following changes to the broadband expansion grant eligibility criteria:

  • Give priority to projects that promote economic development. The budget language defines economic development as "development designed to promote job growth or retention, expand the property tax base, or improve the overall economic vitality of a region."
  • Give priority to projects that affect underserved areas of the state. Underserved area is defined as "an area of the state not served by and Internet service provider offering Internet service that is either fixed wireless service or wired service at speeds of at least 20% of the speed for advanced telecommunications capability as designated by the FCC."
  • Take into consideration the degree to which projects would duplicate existing broadband infrastructure.

Once the budget is signed into law - presumably by the statutory deadline of July 1, 2017 - the Public Service Commission, which oversees the broadband expansion program, will likely open applications for a new round of grants in late summer/early fall and issue grant awards prior to the end of the year. WEDA will provide members with specific details on the grant process once that information becomes available.

If you have any questions on today's budget action by the Joint Finance Committee, please contact WEDA at mwelsh@weda.org.


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