Gov. Scott Walker announced Monday that millions in federal grant dollars for the expansion of broadband technology would be sent back because of technical risks.
The Wisconsin Department of Administration, in conjunction with its BadgerNet Converged Network and the federal National Telecommunications and Information Administration, has been working over the past year to expand broadband connectivity to state schools and libraries.
The DOA would have relied on a $23 million grant from the federal government, but the grant had to be declined due to technical issues within the grant’s requirements.
“Ultimately, if DOA accepted the grant without meeting all of the precise federal regulatory requirements, Wisconsin taxpayers would be required to repay the $23 million back to the federal government,” DOA Secretary Mike Huebsch said in a letter to TEACH, a program within the agency that subsidizes telecommunications for schools and libraries.
The DOA believed its grant application fulfilled all requirements and the NTIA initially approved the application. However, Wisconsin’s BCN network is notably different than other state’s publicly funded networks, which caused “ultimately irreconcilable federal regulatory hurdles” in the grant application process.
“Wisconsin’s successful and forward-looking public-private BCN partnership is unlike any other system reviewed by the NTIA,” Huebsch said. “The BCN system is a purchased service which operates over physical infrastructure owned by AT&T and the other Wisconsin Badgernet Access Alliance vendors.”
Some Democrats have responded negatively to the decision to decline the grant money, claiming Walker is helping the private telecommunication companies adding the money would have provided Wisconsinites with jobs.
“Today, Gov. Scott Walker continues a pattern of turning away Wisconsinite’s federal taxpayer dollars that create jobs and sending them to other states,” Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, said in a statement. “What’s worse, the root of his decision wasn’t what was in the best interest of Wisconsin, rather the best interest of his big telecommunications campaign donors.”
He added that the Joint Finance Committee already approved the grant in the last legislative session.
Although the DOA declined the grant, Huebsch said the goals provided in the grant could still be met. Copper infrastructure enhancements would provide a low-cost technology to deliver high speed bandwidth internet across the state.