You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

The Political Fight Over Public Broadband Arrives in Wisconsin

BY Nick Judd | Monday, June 13 2011

Ars Technica has an in-depth look at a legislative battle now in progress over the fate of a public broadband network for Wisconsin's state schools and libraries:

As we go to press with this story, WiscNet is negotiating with the leadership of Wisconsin's state legislature. Here's how the situation stands now: at the urging of Wisconsin's state telecommunications association, Republican legislators have introduced an omnibus bill that would sever WiscNet from the University of Wisconsin at Madison's Division of Informational Technology, and bar it from taking any money from UW.

The proposed law even goes so far as to prohibit UW from taking National Telecommunications Information Agency (NTIA) broadband stimulus grants, or joining any entity that offers broadband to the general public.

These measures would force UW to return an estimated $39 million in such funds to Washington, DC, warned Tony Evers, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, last week. And they would force schools to turn to Badgernet, Wisconsin's state wide-area-network, which depends heavily on AT&T as its primary vendor.

Ars Technica passes along a report that a switch to this other network would wind up costing the state $6 million as well as shut down a conduit for federal broadband stimulus money. Ars, as usual, goes into tremendous depth about the hows and whens of this political battle for control over access to the Internet.

As in North Carolina, advocates of publicly supported broadband are calling on their colleagues to lobby their legislators in support of WiscNet's continued access to University of Wisconsin funding. Larry Lessig, the law professor and activist who helped mobilize supporters in a failed effort to save municipal broadband networks in North Carolina, explained his support for the publicly funded Internet access at Personal Democracy Forum 2011.