Gov. Evers signs executive order creating task force on broadband access

MADISON -- Gov. Tony Evers on Tuesday, July 14 signed Executive Order #80 creating the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband Access.

The task force will advise the governor and Wisconsin State Legislature on broadband actions and policy, including strategies for successfully expanding high-speed internet access to every residence, business, and institution in the state; initiatives for digital inclusion; and pathways to unlocking and optimizing the benefits of statewide, affordable access to broadband for all communities in Wisconsin.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored that access to high-speed broadband is a necessity, not a luxury, and folks across our state have had to adapt,” said Gov. Evers. “This task force will bring together experts from across the state to research and recommend solutions that state leaders can adopt to connect every person in Wisconsin.”

According to Gov. Evers' office, broadband access is an essential catalyst to drive community, public safety, learning, health and economic goals across the state of Wisconsin and, as outlined in a recent report by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, will be critical to the state’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, there are dire consequences that result from a lack of connectivity.

According to the Federal Communications Commission 2020 Broadband Deployment Report, 7.1% of Wisconsin residents lack access to at least one broadband service with a speed of 25/3 Mbps or better, compared to the national average of 5.6%. This percentage deepens in rural areas of our state where 26.7% of Wisconsin residents lack access to at least one broadband service.

In March, the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) awarded $24 million through the Broadband Expansion Grant Program, which was part of a $48 million investment in broadband included in Gov. Evers’ first biennial budget. That one round of funding invested more money in broadband than in the previous seven rounds of grants combined, according to PSC Chairperson Becky Valcq.

In addition to the Broadband Expansion Grant Program, Wisconsin needs creative solutions to bridge the digital divide. The task force will foster the creativity, collaborative efforts, and innovation necessary to get Wisconsin residents connected.

“In many cases, the hardest part of getting access to all is finding ways to connect that last half-mile—sometimes literally down country roads and driveways to homes and businesses,” said Chairperson Valcq.

The task force will prepare an annual report that will include the current state of broadband in Wisconsin, as well as recommendations for policies and initiatives to overcome challenges to statewide access, affordability and adoption.  Staffing support for the task force will be provided by the PSC’s State Broadband Office.  The task force’s first meeting will be later this summer.

A list of task force members can be found here.