Gov. Jim Doyle announced Thursday that Wisconsin will invest $28.7 million, including $22.9 million in federal stimulus funds, for expanding broadband Internet access in all 72 counties in the state.
Most of the money comes from a grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The funds will go toward extending high-speed Internet access to 467 sites across the state, including schools, colleges and libraries.
“High-speed Internet access is critical to the success of our state’s entrepreneurs, businesses, students and families,” Doyle said in a statement. “Through the Recovery Act, the Obama Administration is making major investments in Wisconsin’s broadband infrastructure to help our schools and libraries access high-speed Internet.”
The Wisconsin Department of Administration will administer the grant, which will provide fiber optic connections on the BadgerNet Converged Network.
Fiber optic cables are very thin pieces of glass that have an unlimited amount of bandwidth and provide the fastest and best connection, according to Mark Weller, president of Access Wisconsin, which is one of the managing partners of the BadgerNet Converged Network.
Weller said broadband connection is necessary for businesses that want to compete in the global economy.
“It’s like the interstate for automobiles, like the telegraph from ancient days. In the development of this country, it is a critical, critical infrastructural piece that has to be in place in today’s world or else you will be stunted and behind in terms of economic development,” Weller said.
Weller added broadband connection is especially significant for rural communities that may only have slow dial-up connections.
“Frankly if you’re in those rural areas, this obviously brings hope and very good things to those people who use libraries,” Weller said. “I believe and think that investing in technology is crucial. It touches the lives of everyone.”
Thad Nation, executive director of the non-profit Wired Wisconsin, said the announcement is tremendous news for the state because one-fifth of households in Wisconsin currently do not have access to broadband.
By expanding high-speed Internet access to libraries and schools in rural communities, more people will be able to access information that they need to run businesses and be connected to the world, he added.
Nation said the project will have the direct impact of putting people to work laying the cable and fiber connections across the state, as well as the effect of bringing the high-speed network to communities across Wisconsin.
“It will improve the business prospects of every business in that community by allowing them to work and compete in the global economy,” Nation said. “In today’s day and age, if you can’t do that, you’re being left behind.”
University of Wisconsin professor in professional development and applied studies Barry Orton said this project is a good thing for the state because it will let more people use the Internet at faster connections.
“These are the types of projects that create jobs and have long-term public benefit,” Orton said.
“It’s like building roads and highways, but for information. It’s a good thing and it makes sense for the recovery of the economy.”