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Gov. Evers continuing to prioritize broadband access in rural Wisconsin

Gov. Evers awarding a Broadband Access Grant to Vernon Communications Coop
Gov. Evers awarding a Broadband Access Grant to Vernon Communications Coop(WEAU)
Published: Jan. 25, 2022 at 4:49 PM CST
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WESTBY, Wis. (WEAU) - Federal funds through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) are strengthening broadband across rural parts of Wisconsin.

Governor Tony Evers declared 2021 as the “Year of Broadband”, allocating $129 million in state grant funding over the next two years for broadband expansion.

Nearly $100 million in grant dollars was awarded to 83 projects in October 2021 to provide fiber internet access to more than 28,000 residential and 1,490 business locations.

Evers made a stop in Westby Tuesday to present Vernon Communications Coop (VCC) with an award of more than $5.6 million, which will extend services to rural parts of Crawford County.

“Access to reliable internet connectivity is not a luxury, it is an absolute necessity,” Evers said.

The Crawford County Project from VCC is expected to reach 52 businesses and nearly 1,000 residences across Freeman, Utica, Seneca, Mount Sterling, and Lynxville.

“These grant opportunities are great for small companies like us to kind of right the wrongs of some of the areas that didn’t get covered by some of our larger telco partners,” CEO Rodney Olson said.

Olson believes locally-owned companies like VCC will continue needing grant money to help the areas requiring reliable internet access.

“There’s still more Crawford County, Monroe County is virtually unserved,” Olson detailed. “Instead of the $2-$300,000 grants, you’re going to start seeing the $5 million, $6 million grants that are bigger.”

It’s a sentiment that’s echoed by Evers, who plans to set aside future dollars to spread broadband across the state.

“We estimate that we still have 6-700,000 households in the state of Wisconsin that don’t have it [broadband],” Evers explained. “I know the infrastructure bill that was finally passed in Washington D.C. will help, and in my next budget, I’ll be asking for state dollars for broadband.”

The Broadband Access Grants were awarded by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC), which received 242 applications last summer.

The PSC encourages those not selected for ARPA funding to apply for the State’s Broadband Expansion Grant Program.

Applications are being accepted until March 17, 2022.

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