A task force appointed by Gov. Tony Evers says more funding, better data and streamlined permitting are needed to meet the goal of giving all homes and businesses access to high-speed internet by 2025.

Established in July 2020, the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband delivered a report Wednesday urging lawmakers to address broadband access, saying it has emerged over the past year as “one of the clear-cut issues to solve for personal, community, and economic prosperity in the coming decades.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the evidence that, without broadband, our families, businesses, and schools in both rural and urban communities cannot reach their full potential,” task force chair Brittany Beyer said in a statement.

The report echoes findings of a recent UW Extension study that linked broadband access to better health, education and prosperity.

“Broadband is now as critical a service as electricity, heat and running water,” said Rebecca Valcq, chair of the Public Service Commission. “(F)or those without broadband or the skills to use broadband effectively and safely, there is a risk of being left behind.”

According to a 2021 report from the Federal Communications Commission, roughly 394,900 people in Wisconsin lack access to quality broadband service, though a recent private study estimated the actual number could be higher than 670,000.

In rural areas, Wisconsin ranks 36th in the nation for broadband access, with 21.8% being unserved or underserved.

But the report notes that the cost of service is also a barrier for low-income families in areas that do have service.

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