Tithi Chattopadhyay: Score for Wisconsin: A new broadband playbook
As the state’s first statewide broadband director, I am here to encourage a dialogue on how to best promote broadband deployment across the state. But first, I have to answer a common question. What is broadband?
In short, broadband is high-speed Internet. In practice, it is a vital business tool, a key link to the global economy, and integral to the function of our health care system, schools, and other public service places. While its importance can’t be over-emphasized, its implementation can be hard to track, and investment in broadband can be expensive.
Fostering better broadband access across the state not only encourages investment in infrastructure, it makes it easier to attract start-ups and businesses that rely on data to provide a service to customers. Think of the value to our agriculture industry when a farmer from Antigo is able to research new, sustainable farming techniques online and correspond with farmers in other areas of the state to get feedback. Or, think of the college student at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point streaming a class online she would not otherwise be able to enroll in because her professor is based in Superior. These activities are made possible by broadband, though not every corner of the state has a level of access to enable all applications.
Given the importance of broadband to education, health care, small businesses, and global exports, expediting its implementation is a top priority for policy-makers, and the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSCW) has been tasked with developing a statewide broadband plan. At the beginning of this year, the PSCW began the process to create a “Playbook” designed to identify opportunities to expand broadband investments, adoption, and application statewide.
The Playbook was developed to identify initiatives and actions that encourage increased investment in broadband infrastructure and increased broadband utilization throughout the state of Wisconsin. The Playbook was developed with input from a variety of stakeholders, with direction provided by a Steering Committee of regional leaders. Based on discussions of the Steering Committee and focus group meetings of various broadband providers, stakeholders, and users, a draft Playbook has been issued and is available for public input and review. (Note, visit http://psc.wi.gov or call 608-266-9600 to view or request a copy of the draft Playbook)
The plays in the Playbook are organized under several key themes including leveraging existing government resources to incentivize private investment; providing forums for public and private sector partnerships and collaborations to advance Wisconsin’s broadband communications; and, promoting awareness of shared opportunities among consumers, government leaders and providers.
Creating incentives to invest in Wisconsin is a top priority. By doing so, we improve broadband deployment rates, especially to the areas of the state where broadband is not readily available or affordable.
The draft Playbook also focuses on reducing barriers to broadband investment. By cutting the red tape we can facilitate deployment through a focus on opportunities to reduce barriers and cost of broadband investment through mechanisms like the sharing of right-of-ways and infrastructure where it makes sense. Proposed efforts include actions such as streamlined approaches to permitting and model agreements to make community assets, such as water towers, more accessible to broadband providers.
We also recognize the importance of leveraging existing government resources by preparing the state to take the fullest advantage of federal dollars, and effectively purposing existing state program dollars to accomplish the state’s broadband goals and objectives.
Finally, education, awareness, and personnel to support broadband development in Wisconsin communities will be vital to promoting broadband’s long-term role in reviving our economy and putting Wisconsin businesses out front in a rapidly changing, digital marketplace. The draft Playbook recommends taking actions that support local leadership with information on best practices; identifying matching funds to help support positions to advocate and coordinate collaborative initiatives; and encouraging public access, training and awareness at libraries and other locations.
Public input on the Playbook will help shape the state-level efforts to improve broadband that provide a solid foundation for economic growth, improved access to education and healthcare, enhanced public safety, stronger communities and an enriched quality of life.
Your comments on the Playbook can be submitted in several ways. Email suggestions to PSCBroadbandComments@wisconsin.gov or file them at the PSC’s website, http://psc.wi.gov, by clicking on the “Public Comments” button, and choosing the “Wisconsin’s Broadband Playbook: File a Comment” link. And, of course, if you don’t have access to the Internet, you may send comments addressed to: “Wisconsin’s Broadband Playbook Comments,” Public Service Commission, P.O. Box 7854, Madison, WI, 53707-7854.
— Chattopadhyay is Wisconsin’s state broadband director.