Wisconsin decides to return federal broadband stimulus funds

Wisconsin state officials have decided that their $23 million federal broadband stimulus grant, while potentially helpful, just isn't worth the hassle to implement.

As reported in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, state officials said "there were too many strings attached to the stimulus money" that could have been used to build a middle mile network to provide broadband services to schools and libraries. Additionally, the grant money could have been used to improve police, fire department and hospital communications in rural areas.

One of the main reasons Wisconsin is returning the money is that the state's taxpayers would have been liable for the $23 million if the state did not meet the grant's requirements. In a memo to school and library associations, Mike Huebsch, secretary of the state Department of Administration for Wisconsin wrote "this is simply not an acceptable risk."

And while the new grant would have helped the state to augment the state's BadgerNet Converged Network with an additional 200 miles of a fiber cable in the state, the other sticking point is that the network is actually owned by AT&T (NYSE: T), not Wisconsin.

The problem was that while federal officials wanted a 20-year network commitment, Wisconsin's contract with AT&T is only for five years.

Robert Bocher, an information technology consultant for the Department of Public Instruction, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that AT&T "did not want to get bogged down in federal grant regulations."

Given that the state still needs this bandwidth, Bocher added that it's working with AT&T to get an alternative bandwidth upgrade similar to what was outlined in the original $23 million grant.

For more:
- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has this article
- see the 66 winners here (PDF)

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