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The continuing debate in Wisconsin re broadband

Posted by on Sunday, January 29, 2012 in State Legislation/Initiatives

The Wisconsin State Telecommunications Association is maintaining their pressure on the legislature in opposition to the bill which would extend the WiscNet sunset for a year.

Their press release of two days ago suggests that the UW either doesn't know their own business or is attempting to mislead us all, referring to "misleading statements made by Ray Cross, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Extension."

As Lisa noted in an earlier blog post, we received a favorable vote in committee as the "Senate Agriculture, Forestry and Higher Education Committee voted 6 – 1 to recommend SB 375 for passage. The bill would delay the restrictions on participation by the University of Wisconsin System in selling or providing telecommunications service, including terminating participation in WiscNet."

The WSTA is attempting to sell the idea that the current law would not prohibit the UW from participating in WiscNet -- which might be a meaningful argument if no-one else were participating in WiscNet.

We can accept that the legislature intended that the UW should not subsidize the provision of telecommunications. What seems unclear is if there are ways in which the UW might collaborate or participate without throwing out other participants. The WSTA appears to chastise the UW, stating:

If WiscNet’s role in providing service to the UW is critical in maintaining the UW’s $1 billion research engine, it seems like a pretty simple choice. Even with only two options, it is unclear whether the UW and WiscNet have actually identified a course of action in order to prepare for the July 2013 sunrise provisions."

But from the point of view of UW, as well as schools, libraries and other WiscNet participants, the audit only recently begun by the Legislative Audit Bureau is critical -- not merely pro forma. At the Senate Committee hearing, the WSTA representative conceded that no-one knows what a new WiscNet configuration might look like. So let's not be hasty.

We believe that getting findings and recommendations from the recently begun LAB study will be critical to forming a plan of action -- and with some participants required to make erate decisions within a few days or weeks of the study's conclusion, more time is needed.

The WSTA position might make sense if the University of Wisconsin were completely separate from the rest of the state. But education and business concerns are woven throughout the fabric of our school, library and university community. Allowing enough time via a one year extension of the deadline will give us a much-needed opportunity to make sure questions are addressed in a way that will benefit the entire state, not just WSTA member profits.

I encourage all WLA members to contact their legislators in support of SB 375 and AB 473. The advocacy tools on the WLA website ( make this easy to do. We are fortunate to enjoy bipartisan support for these bills, but opponents are working hard to stop them. We need to work equally hard and not take anything from granted.

Terry Dawson, Chair
WLA Library Development & Legislation Committee
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