The newly enacted 2019 Wisconsin Act 128 incentivizes rural broadband investment through targeted tax exemptions. Telephone companies will get an exemption for property used to provide broadband service in rural or underserved areas.

Most Wisconsin property taxes are paid to local governments. The telephone company property tax, however, is paid to and controlled by the state. This means that the bill will have no fiscal impact on local governments, according to a press release from WSTA — Wisconsin’s Broadband Association.

The targeted exemption for new and existing investments also is a step in leveling the playing field between how cable and telephone companies are taxed, according to the WSTA. The press release notes that cable companies already had a property tax exemption on their voice, video and data infrastructure. But until now, the telcos paid property taxes on the same triple play bundles.

Wisconsin Rural Broadband
The new law was created when Governor Tony Evers signed AB 344. That bill and its companion legislation — Senate Bill 321 — were written by Senator Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) and Representation Representative Romaine Quinn (R-Cameron). The assembly passed the legislation by voice vote and the Senate roll call was unanimous, according to Wisconsin State Broadband Association Executive Director Bill Esbeck.

The WSTA lauded the action. “By enacting this new law, Wisconsin will help providers stretch their resources and help connect more broadband customers in rural and underserved Wisconsin,” Esbeck said in a press release. “We sincerely appreciate the support the legislation received from both sides of the aisle to promote broadband expansion in rural and underserved communities.”

Rural broadband appears to be getting a lot of attention in the Badger State. The Wisconsin Legislature approved and Evers signed what the WSTA termed “a historic” increase in funding for the Broadband Expansion Grant Program in the 2019-2021 Biennial Budget, according to WSTA.

States increasingly are interested in spurring broadband deployment.Wisconsin is an example of a state that is using both direct funding programs and indirect financial incentives such as those included in the new legislation.

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