A group of telephone companies has filed a lawsuit claiming the University of Wisconsin System is unfairly using tax dollars to compete with private companies in developing broadband access. Access Wisconsin claims the UW is piggybacking off existing networks rather than laying real groundwork.
“They did not specifically seek out communities that are unserved or underserved,” says Bill Esbeck of the Wisconsin State Telecommunications Association, which shares membership with Access Wisconsin.
Esbeck is referring to Platteville, Superior, Wausau and Chippewa Falls – communities UW-Extension is targeting using a $32-million federal grant.
UW System Spokesman David Giroux says residents of those areas don’t agree with the telecoms’ assertion. “Their letters of support to the grant application speak to a very different scenario.”
Giroux says the university is developing a “publically owned” infrastructure to assist fire departments, police stations, schools, hospitals and libraries
Access Wisconsin claims “UW’s goal is to attract the biggest local customers, such as schools, libraries and health care facilities, to its network.”
Although the Joint Finance Committee last week unanimously approved $19,000 in federal funds for UW-Extension to funnel into the Wausau area, disagreements arose about the role of government in this issue.
State Rep. Robin Vos, co-chair of the panel, says there is a need to develop internet access in parts of the state but warned of subsidized operations undercutting private companies.
“If we did that with everything then there would, in essence, be no private sector” says the Racine area Republican.
Democratic Senator Bob Jauch says companies aren’t interested in his rural district because of the smaller number of customers.”There is no competition for telecommunication service where I live, I don’t have a choice.”