The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) has received 194 applications requesting funding of more than $495 million for the state’s Broadband Expansion Grant Program. That amount exceeds the $129 million that the state has made available for a two-year period to expand high-speed broadband internet.
The state regulator is expected to award as much as $100 million in grants this summer as part of the first round of funding, with the remaining funding to be allocated at a later date.
The regulator said it “made applications available” on Dec. 1, 2021, apparently meaning that it began accepting grant applications on that date. Completed applications were due two weeks ago.
Each grant application is being evaluated based on matching funds, public-private partnerships, economic development, scalability, impact, and the proposed service area’s existing broadband service needs.
Wisconsin has awarded $164 million to 262 projects to expand broadband statewide since 2019, enabling more than 300,000 homes and businesses to be connected to high-speed internet following the completion of all previously funded projects.
“Broadband is a necessity that students and workers, business owners, families, and communities need to be successful, and nobody should have to drive to the end of their driveway or travel into town to sit in a library parking lot just to send an email,” said Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers in a prepared statement about the Wisconsin broadband funding. “With the help of local broadband providers, our broadband expansion grants have made great strides in closing the digital divide in our state, and I look forward to getting these funds out the door to continue to expand broadband to those who need it.”
States will be taking an increasingly big role in administering broadband funding moving forward. The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) provided funding to the states that could be used for a variety of purposes, including broadband, and some states are using a considerable amount of the funding for broadband. And the upcoming BEAD program provides a combined $42.5 billion to the states specifically for broadband deployments.
Joan Engebretson contributed to this report.