WiscNet, Broadband Grant Restored by Assembly

Posted by Lisa Strand on Thursday, June 16, 2011 in State Legislation/Initiatives
According to a report by the WisPolitics Budget Blog, the Assembly passed the 2011-13 budget bill on a straight party line vote, modifying Joint Finance provisions that would have eliminated the UW's broadband grant and crippled WiscNet.

A memo from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau describes the motion containing these and many other provisions amending the budget bill. Items #11 through 13 on pages 28-30 of the memo describe the changes related to WiscNet and the UW's involvement in telecommunications issues.

First, item #11 deletes the Joint Finance amendment that would have prohibited the UW from accepting the federal broadband grant altogether. The memo says, "Instead, specify that UW-Extension could not commit any funds to facilities under this project to which such funds were not committed prior to June 15, 2011, unless approved by the Joint Committee on Finance."

Item #12 essentially restores WiscNet operations but requires the Legislative Audit Bureau to conduct a financial and performance evaluation audit of the Board of Regents' use of broadband and telecommunications services by January 1, 2013. Joint Finance language limiting the UW's involvement in the provision of telecommunications services would not take effect until July 1, 2013, and Joint Finance would be authorized to further delay the effective date of those changes. The Assembly language also created an exemption that would allow the UW to remain involved in certain activities that existed on or prior to June 15, 2011.

In addition, the UW-Extension would be prohibited from committing any additional funds to facilities under their federal broadband grant that were not committed prior to June 15, 2011, unless approved by Joint Finance.

Finally, there were some changes in language defining telecommunications services (#13 on page 30) that will limit the UW's involvement in telecommunications issues but appear to soften the language approved earlier by Joint Finance. Expect to hear more about the ramifications of the amendments from the UW.

Please contact your State Representatives to thank them for this action. And make contacts with your State Senators to make sure this compromise is approved in that house when they take up the budget this week.
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