Millions awarded for high-capacity Internet

August 18, 2010

Wisconsin has received a federal boost in networking capacity thanks to $32.3 million in federal grants announced today (Aug. 18) by University of Wisconsin-Extension Provost and Vice Chancellor Christine J. Quinn. UW-Extension led the grant application process.

The larger of the two grants will award $29.9 million to build more than 600 miles of fiber optic cable impacting 39 communities and 182 institutions.

This will not only advance the statewide research and education infrastructure, but it will also extend advanced broadband to public safety agencies, health care providers, schools and community organizations in four demonstration communities: Platteville, Wausau, Superior and the Chippewa Valley region.

A separate $2.4 million grant will support education and outreach in the same four communities and in the Menominee Nation.

UW-Extension partnered with WiscNet, Wisconsin’s research and education network headquartered at UW–Madison, throughout the application process to facilitate partnerships among public and private interests, promote community engagement and plan for infrastructure upgrades.

WiscNet has long been a strong proponent of Community Area Networks (an interconnection of community anchor institutions within a region using previously “dark,” or unused, optical fiber) and provided key technical and community leadership on the application.

David Lois, WiscNet’s executive director, is excited about the impact the award will have on our state’s economy and the well-being of its citizens.

“You have to be excited about this. Building Community Area Networks will create local economic development opportunities through 21st century technologies,” Lois says. “This grant allows us to pilot or test connecting these communities in new and innovative ways developing a platform for community-based services. They will make the public sector more efficient and the private sector grow locally.”

Quinn also mentioned the impact the award will have on communities across Wisconsin.

“This effort is community driven. This is a wonderful example of the Wisconsin Idea at work,” Quinn says. “People all over the state will be able to learn from the experience of these five demonstration communities. The long-term impact will be stronger communities with broader access to education, employment, global markets, health care and other resources.”

Additional statewide public and private partners include the UW System, CCI Systems Inc., UW–Madison, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Wisconsin Educational Communications Board. Each of the five locations also has local partners that contributed time and money to the project.

Lois adds, “There is a lot of talk about creating 21st century jobs throughout Wisconsin. Community Area Networks are the foundation we need to build them. That is the essence of building the capacity right in Wisconsin’s communities.”

The grants were awarded by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.