The Wisconsin Senate has passed legislation deregulating the telecommunications industry in the state. Democrats who opposed the measure claim it fails to ensure a wide range of available services, especially in rural areas. “In my world, we need broadband to create jobs,” said state Senator Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma), who represents rural southwestern Wisconsin. “If there is no broadband, people in my world go somewhere else.” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said the private sector has already provided options. “I live four miles from Juneau. We don’t have broadband. We’re never going to have broadband out there. What we have is a wireless card. Works great,” said Fitzgerald. Vinehout countered that much of her district is not served by wireless networks, either.
Senator Rich Zipperer (R-Pewaukee) said the legislation reflects a changed telecommunications landscape. “In 1994, when the current statutes were drafted, it was a monopoly, and these are regulations drafted to regulate a monopoly. And that was fine in the monopoly era. “But times have changed and competition has come, and that’s what this proposal is all about, allowing the competition to bring innovation and investment and jobs to our state,” said Zipperer. “if you’re running a small business in a rural area, you need a hard wire directly connected to your house,” argued Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Waunakee), who said a business person couldn’t make do with just a cell phone and a wireless card. “Once you’re up on-line in a broadband sort of way, your business is going to grow,” he said.
But Fitzgerald argued that technology has outpaced government in the telecom arena. “Let’s try and keep pace,” he said. “Let’s see if we can’t get government to keep up with the private sector in this area.” The bill picked up the votes of 6 Democrats and passed the state Senate 25-8. The Assembly passed the bill 80-13.