Broadband access jeopardized by GOP action in Wisconsin

Mark Weller, president and CEO of Madison-based Access Wisconsin, which represents the interests of about 30 private telephone companies, applauded the amendment.

“We take great offense at the idea that taxpayer money should be used to subsidize a government agency such as UW-Extension to duplicate and compete with our services,” Weller said June 7 in a written statement. “This is wasteful and inappropriate.”

State statutes bar the UW System Board of Regents from providing telecommunications services “that are available from a private telecommunications carrier to the general public or to any other public or private entity,” Joint Finance pointed out in the amendment.

State Sens. Terry Moulton, R-Lake Hallie, and state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, both criticized the amendment, saying the BCCB project would connect agencies in rural parts of the state where broadband isn’t offered by the private sector.

“It simply defies reason,” Vinehout said of the amendment.

The same amendment also would prohibit the UW system, individual campuses, and UW-Extension from partnering with nonprofit organizations that provide “telecommunications services or information technology services to members of the general public.”

That effectively would sever the UW System’s membership with WiscNet, a nonprofit association that provides internet access and other network services to member organizations in Wisconsin.

WiscNet members include public entities such as schools, libraries, universities, and local governments. Area members include the Altoona, Chippewa Falls, Eau Claire, and Menomonie school districts; Eau Claire city and county governments; and UW-Eau Claire, UW-Stout in Menomonie, and Chippewa Valley Technical College.

WiscNet operates as a cooperative, meaning members pool money to pay for services. That helps keeps service costs low, said David Lois, WiscNet’s executive director. The amendment’s impact on his organization would be “devastating,” Lois said.

The UW System is a “key member” of WiscNet, Moulton said June 9. Pulling the university system out of the organization, he added, would be like pulling a major store out of a shopping mall: “WiscNet would be probably unable to survive without [the UW system’s] inclusion.”