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Terry Dawson, WLA Legislative Chair, Testifies in Favor of SB 375

Posted by on Friday, January 20, 2012 in State Legislation/Initiatives
SB 375, a bill to delay changes to WiscNet that were inserted into the 2011-13 budget bill in the 11th hour, was the subject of a January 19 hearing in the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Forestry, and Higher Education. The committee will hold an executive session (vote) on the bill on Monday, January 23.

Terry Dawson, Chair of the WLA's Library Development and Legislation Committee, spoke in favor of the bill on behalf of WLA, countering claims by telecommunications groups that there is sufficient broadband and cheap Internet service available to everyone in the state. Terry's main points:
  • WiscNet provides cost-effective, high quality Internet service to its members, including K-12 schools, institutions of higher education and 95 percent of public libraries in the state. According to information on the Department of Administration's website, service from other providers would cost 4-5 times more than WiscNet charges.
  • Schools will likely need to know by February 2013 who their Internet provider will be and they need assurance that the provider will offer services through June 2014.  Extending the deadline for changes to WiscNet to July 1, 2014, will give schools this assurance.
Dawson also took a moment to correct information contained in a news release about broadband access for  libraries from the Wisconsin State Telecommunications Association (WSTA). His remarks: "The WSTA claims that some supporters of this bill are making “misleading” statements that 90% of Wisconsin’s libraries don’t have broadband access at 4Mbps.  Based on August 2011 data obtained directly from the Department of Administration’s TEACH program, 97% of our libraries have less than 4Mbps.  Some libraries will receive additional TEACH subsidized bandwidth as a result of the recent BadgerNet contract extension but the great majority will likely still be under 4Mbps.  

"Ironically, 25% of our libraries have an additional broadband circuit from a local cable or phone company because the TEACH program does not have the budget to fund all library or school requests for more bandwidth. Although higher speed access may be available, it comes at a substantially higher cost at a time when  our publicly supported schools and libraries are making great efforts to maintain services in an environment of severe budget constraints," Dawson said.

In addition to Dawson, Jon Mark Bolthouse, Technology Projects Manager, South Central Library Association, and Stefanie Morrill, Director, WiLS, testified in favor of the bill. Others testifying in favor included Ray Cross, Chancellor of UW-Extension, and representatives of WiscNet, the Wisconsin Educational Media & Technology Association, Wisconsin Technical College System, and Wisconsin Farmers Union. Sen. Moulton, as author of the bill, also testified in favor. Those testifying in opposition to the bill were representatives and members of WSTA, including several CEOs of local or regional telecommunications companies, and Access Wisconsin. Take a look at the WisconsinEye video of the entire hearing.

Chaired by Sen. Dale Schultz, a champion of improving broadband access in Wisconsin, the committee includes Republican Senators Sheila Harsdorf, Neil Kedzie, Terry Moulton, along with Democratic Senators Dave Hansen, Jessica King and Jennifer Shilling.
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