Evers’ budget seeks to expand rural broadband to $78 million: ‘Don’t overlook rural communities’

Evers' plan to increase broadband speeds by 2025
Evers’ budget seeks to expand rural broadband to $78 million: ‘Don’t overlook rural communities’

Josh Smith has strong opinions about two things: plants and rural broadband.

As the vice president of Kopke’s Greenhouse in the town of Dunn, Smith said having poor internet connectivity prevents his greenhouse from adding more technology.

“All the growing — everything happens by hand — which on one hand is great,” Smith said. “On the other hand, if an alarm goes off at 3 a.m. because a furnace died, I’m not going to know about it until the phone rings.”

His greenhouse is located on Sand Hill Road, which is one of the worst roads in the area for internet connectivity. The town of Dunn has about 5,000 people and makes up the area in between Oregon, McFarland and Stoughton.

The good news for Smith is that a new transmitter is scheduled to go up at the town hall in the spring. In 2018, under former Gov. Scott Walker, Charter Communications and Hoyos Consulting were awarded grants from the Wisconsin Public Service Commission to bring broadband to the area as part of the Broadband Expansion Grant Program.

Gov. Tony Evers is now asking to increase funding for that grant program to $78.6 million over two years, compared to the $16 million Walker put in the last budget. The plan faces challenges, though, with Republican leaders in power, who have said Evers’ plan spends more than the state can afford.

Evers’ budget proposal also would create a statewide goal of increasing broadband speeds for all homes and businesses by 2025. The downloading speed goal would be 25 megabits per second, and the uploading speed goal would be 3 Mbps.

Ben Kollenbroich, planning and land conservation director for the town of Dunn, said getting the grant was a lot of work but was necessary in order to help business owners, farmers and students in the area.

“We’re 10 miles from the state Capitol and people assume that we have internet service, but we don’t, and our surrounding municipalities don’t have very good internet service either,” Kollenbroich said.

The Charter project and the first phase of the Hoyos project have already been completed, and he said they have made a difference for neighborhoods in the community. After the transmitter is put in, southern parts of the township will still be without high-speed connections, but Kollenbroich is always looking for more companies willing to come and expand access further.

He said the reason the grants from the state are needed is because it is difficult for companies to make a return on the investment.

“The biggest thing for the state to know is: Don’t overlook rural communities near metropolises because we don’t have the service and, despite us having 5,000 people, it’s spread out,” he said.

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