October 24, 2014

UW separating from WiscNet

A nonprofit group which provides Internet services to school districts, libraries and other public-sector entities expects to maintain a viable business model, despite the loss of its largest customer, the University of Wisconsin System.

WiscNet recently lost the UW System, after legislators prohibited the UW and WiscNet from operating together. “I don’t quite understand . . . why we’d want to separate the K-12s from the university,” David Lois, executive director of WiscNet, told a joint hearing by a pair of state Senate committees on Monday.

The UW had recently approved a new contract with WiscNet, that drew complaint from Republicans legislators and private sector providers. Faced with the possibility of litigation, the university withdrew from the contract last month.

“The success we’ve had for the last 25 years have been quite remarkable,” said Lois. “I think there’s little to no evidence that we’ve caused damage or harm to the telecommunications industry.”

But Bill Esbeck with the Wisconsin State Telecommunications Association said WiscNet has enjoyed an unfair advantage, amounting to a taxpayer subsidy, due to its long working relationship with the UW System. He expects WiscNet to remain a viable Internet service provider, but said his members are ready to peel away even more customers. “On an apples to apples basis, we are already beating WiscNet on price,” he said.

The UW System plans to operate its own independent network service, and is now in the process of determining what assets it owns, and what are owned by WiscNet.