Fast forward 19 months and hundreds of millions in pledged work to expand infrastructure through both public and private dollars, and experts still can’t seem to say exactly what the final price tag will be or when full access will be accomplished.
That’s, in part, because getting to 100 percent coverage has become a moving target.
The FCC includes access to satellite broadband when it calculates coverage, something the state Public Service Commission does not. The target for coverage was once download speeds of 25 Mbps and 3 Mbps for uploads, but that’s now become 100 and 20. And it’s not just about having infrastructure to every doorstep in Wisconsin; it’s about people being able to afford the service.
The state recently announced nearly $6 million in federal grants to help with the deployment and adoption of “affordable, equitable and reliable” high-speed internet through the state. The money, according to advocates, will help create a map over the next five years of how to reach full coverage in Wisconsin, how much it will cost to get there, and how to make it affordable.
And Gov. Tony Evers touted the possibility it could draw as much as $1.1 billion in federal funds to help expand coverage across Wisconsin.
“We know digital divides are holding our communities back in more ways than one,” Evers said during the announcement of the grant. “If we want every Wisconsinite to be connected, we have to break down barriers in access and affordability.”
During deliberations on the state budget, the LFB prepared an overview of the PSC”s broadband expansion grant program, which first handed out money in the 2013-14 fiscal year. That memo noted the FCC’s map of high-speed internet coverage found 93.2 percent of Wisconsin had access to 25/3 coverage, though only 64.4 percent subscribed to it.
That same memo noted the challenge in estimating the cost to provide service at speeds of 25/3 to all Wisconsin residents. PSC staff had estimated it to be $700 million to $1.4 billion with the state’s share in the range of $200 million to $700 million. It also noted the FCC mapping data overstates the availability of broadband.
So when the updated FCC map now showed 98.3 percent of Wisconsin with 25/3 access, the PSC has a different take.