Broadband access jeopardized by GOP action in Wisconsin

In a memo last week to schools and libraries in Wisconsin, state schools Superintendent Tony Evers said the amendment “will very likely make it impossible for WiscNet to continue offering internet access.”

Evers said many of Wisconsin’s public schools and libraries get their internet access through WiscNet. Costs for schools and libraries to get internet access likely would double or triple if WiscNet disappeared, Evers said.

Bob Scidmore, the Eau Claire school district’s technology director, said June 9 that the district still was trying to verify how much it would cost to get internet service through another provider. If costs did in fact double or triple, he said, the district likely would have to spend between $21,000 and $42,000 more each year for its internet service.

Vinehout said the decision isn’t final and could be removed from the budget before it is approved. The Legislature is expected to start debating the 2011-13 budget this week, and it isn’t final until passed by both houses of the Legislature and signed by Gov. Scott Walker. It takes effect July 1.

Moulton said he has been working to get the measure out of the budget. He’d like the Legislature to discuss the issue more before acting on the BCCB project.

“I think it would be a shame to not be able to have that federal money to expand broadband services in rural areas,” Moulton said, noting the BCCB project likely would create jobs in the Chippewa Valley.

Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said June 9 in an eMail message to the Leader-Telegram of Eau Claire that Walker would “evaluate those specific provisions once the final version of the budget” reaches his desk.

Project backers are urging lawmakers and Walker to strike the provision.

“Broadband is a critical health-care infrastructure that reduces costs, improves patient outcomes, and expands quality and accessibility for patients,” officials from Hospital Sisters Health System wrote in a June 7 letter to Moulton.

Illinois-based Hospital Sisters operates Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chippewa Falls, as well as hospitals in Green Bay and Sheboygan. Officials said the amendment would destroy a planned broadband connection among its hospitals.

The Chippewa Valley Internetworking Consortium is a community area network that connects municipalities, libraries, educational institutions, and nonprofit medical centers in the region. It sent a letter to Walker last week urging him to remove the amendment’s provisions from the budget.

“These provisions are perplexing because they have no clear purpose in advancing your budget goals or your goal of adding jobs,” Ross Wilson, a fiscal agent for the consortium, wrote in the letter.