University of Wisconsin–Madison

Broadband issues in our State impact all of us

Wisconsin continues to be a place where issues of national interest surface.

Recently, the Public Service Commission sponsored the 2013 Broadband Planning Symposium where 160 individuals from many different sectors spent two days sharing perspectives on broadband. This effort is being coordinated through the Link Wisconsin initiative.

Governor Walker also attended this Symposium. It is notable that pervasive, affordable, gigabit level broadband is core to at least four of Governor Walker’s five priorities, as listed on his home page.

During his address at the Symposium, Governor Walker referred to PPP (Public-Private-Partnership). This is the same language being used by the stakeholders for LinkWisconsin.  Many of us believe that Wisconsin is best served by a healthy relationship between the public and private sector, in which we work together to best-serve Wisconsin needs. Tom Still from Wisconsin Technology Network, who attended the Symposium, wrote an article to this effect. Journalist Rick Barrett from the Journal-Sentinel also wrote an article about our middling broadband rank as a State. Both articles indicate that, while we have much to do, we are positioned to do it.

A great resource on this topic is “Wisconsin’s Playbook for Broadband Progress.”  The Wisconsin Regional Broadband Planning team states in this playbook that “…there remain gaps in critical broadband communications infrastructure, as well as in utilization.”   The playbook indicates there are many private and public sector organizations collaborating effectively.  This gives me a sense of optimism that Wisconsin is positioned to have the “right conversation at the right time.”

We finally have the right balance starting to emerge.  We have our schools, libraries, municipalities, regions, state agencies, public safety, and others defining needs before talking about who will respond to those needs with services.  An analogy is our road system—where states, counties, and municipalities define the needs, and only then is there a solicitation to respond to those needs.  Digital is the new transportation issue in Wisconsin! 

While there is excellent alignment with Governor Walker’s priorities and the work of LinkWisconsin, there are those who disagree with assertions that Wisconsin is falling behind on broadband. They believe the gaps are much smaller than what is reported.  Please listen carefully to these claims.  The key question is, do we have AFFORDABLE, gigabit level broadband in all areas of our state where children need to be educated, businesses need to grow and government needs to be more efficient? 

The gaps are significantly greater than what is reported. Part of this is due to a general lack of awareness that education is moving rapidly toward a big broadband model.  State Superintendent Tony Evers facilitated the creation of a statewide strategic plan for digital learning.  I covered this in an earlier blog post.  In brief, I said our more than 2000 Wisconsin schools need gigabit-level broadband now. And that will increase to 10 gigabit in a few years.

Two more resources that I recommend for those of you interested in the broader context for broadband in our country are a Bill Moyers interview with Susan Crawford. And a briefing paper from Dr. Hanns Kuttner from the Hudson Institute on “Broadband for Rural America: Economic Impacts and Economic Opportunties”(pdf). Here is a video of Dr. Kuttner presenting his findings on rural broadband and economic development (two hours). If you still have an appetite for more related to the history of educational and library broadband in Wisconsin, see Bob Bocher’s excellent summary (pdf).

We must hold each other accountable for civility and integrity in our conversations and positions on this topic.  Demeaning those who hold contrary positions does not serve the public interests.  Affordable, gigabit level, ubiquitous broadband is an achievable goal if we work toward a Public-Private Partnership to make this happen.  Excluding the private sector is unacceptable.  Excluding the public sector is unacceptable.  Our approach must be to have our priorities driving our strategies.  It is time to work together to advance the competitiveness of our state.

— Bruce