Gov. Walker awards grant for broadband internet access to Eau Claire Co.

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- Governor Scott Walker is awarding a grant that could soon improve internet speeds for many parts of Eau Claire County.

The Governor made a stop in Eau Claire on Monday to present a Broadband Grant to Packerland Broadband, a local internet service provider. As part of Walker’s Broadband Expansion Grant Program, $35.5 million was added to the state budget for investments in broadband.

Packerland Broadband also received a $210,733 broadband grant to utilize TV white space technology for a project in Marinette County and a $98,000 grant for a combination TV white space and fiber project in Forest County. Cory Heigl, Vice President and General Manager of Packerland Broadband, says high-speed internet is in high demand with customers. "They're upset, they don't have it and they don't understand why. Why are we not giving them the connection that they want? That's a tough conversation, people are passionate about it," said Heigl.

Governor Walker is awarding Packerland Broadband a $200,000 grant towards improving internet speeds in underserviced areas of eastern Eau Claire County. "As a service provider, we have access to that money as long as we partner with a public agency. In the case of here in Eau Claire County, we partner with Eau Claire County and others," said Heigl.

He adds that this could be key to economic and educational development. "We do our banking, we communicate with healthcare, kids are using it for education in the household after school, the economy grows through businesses that have a connection," said Heigl.

Governor Walker says bringing high speed internet to all parts of the state will help attract and keep people in Wisconsin. He says while Wisconsin offers its residents access to the great outdoors, it’s not enough to keep the younger generation here.

"While that's very appealing to anyone but particularly for millennials, one of the challenges is if you don't have access to high speed internet connections, that's just a losing proposition,” said Walker. Heigl agrees, expanding broadband can help with this. He says people are moving from smaller communities to larger communities because internet connection is important to them. He says this causes a ripple effect that impacts education. “School districts in small communities are shrinking and it's a fact of infrastructure, they don't have it. Broadband is an infrastructure, it's a utility today," he said.

Heigl believes every household will have a broadband connection in the next five years and says Packerland looks forward to being a part of that. “We’re committed through our Microsoft partnership, our partnership here at a local level, to reach 80 thousand new households with broadband that don’t have a connection today in Wisconsin and Michigan upper peninsula,” he said.

Eau Claire isn’t the only county benefitting from this. A total of 46 grants are being awarded, making this the largest investment of broadband grants in state history.

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