Smith proposes rural broadband measures

To advance what he says is the speedy internet connections that are “essential” to improve rural opportunity, the state senator representing the district that covers Trempealeau County has introduced several bills to push broadband.

“You can’t have rural prosperity without broadband,” said 31st District Sen. Jeff Smith, D-Eau Claire. “If we want our children and grandchildren to live in this part of the world, we have to have high-speed internet.”

The bills co-sponsored by Smith would provide up to $100 million in grants to entities aiming to expand broadband access, prioritize access to farms, require consumer information on actual internet speeds, require installation of empty conduit lines along any public works project and broadband access to consumers along any broadband route. The bills would also eliminate the requirement that municipalities partner with a private internet provider to qualify for the grant.

The package of bills would promote broadband connections only in counties with fewer than 75,000 residents.

Smith said the bills could be considered in a yet-to-be-scheduled special session called for by Gov. Tony Evers to tackle what lawmakers see as the problems of Wisconsin agriculture.

Most of northern and central Trempealeau County has high-speed internet, much of it provided by Tri County Communications. “Tri-County is a hero in this,” Smith said. 

According to a map maintained by the state Public Service Commission map, a stretch from south of Blair to Ettrick, and swaths of southeast and southwest Trempealeau County have more spotty access to broadband.

Smith said internet providers are generally supportive of his bills. 

“The problem providing broadband to sparsely populated areas is always going to be cost,” Smith said. “This is where government can partner to get these kinds of things done.”


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