MILWAUKEE (AP) — More than $570 million in government subsidies will be used to bring faster Internet service to rural Wisconsin.
The money from the Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America Fund II program will be given to three telecom companies in an effort to expand service to about 230,000 Wisconsin households. CenturyLink Inc. will receive $330 million, Frontier Communications will be given $186 million and AT&T Inc. will get $54 million, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
The FCC said it plans to spend more than $10 billion to subsidize broadband expansions nationwide over the next five years, using money paid by telecommunications customers as part of the $4.5 billion-a-year Universal Service Fund.
Wisconsin is second only to California in the dollar amount allocated to states from the Connect America Fund II program, while Minnesota is ranked fifth and Michigan is sixth, according to the FCC.
The Fox Valley and Eau Claire areas likely will be the first to benefit from the spending, said Scott VanderSanden, president of AT&T Wisconsin.
The program is an incentive for telecom companies to expand in areas that otherwise wouldn’t receive broadband expansions soon because of the cost, he said.
“This money is specifically earmarked to go to those parts of the state,” VanderSanden said.
Under the program’s terms, the companies taking the money must build at least 40 percent of their expansion commitments by the end of 2017, and all of it by the end of 2020.
One in three rural Americans lack adequate broadband service, a high-speed Internet connection capable of handling data through fiber-optic cable or other means. Many rural areas are limited to a slow-speed connection that isn’t suitable for certain purposes, including watching videos or operating a business.
The lack of broadband service is a problem for areas such as northern Wisconsin that are missing business opportunities, according to economic development officials.