More AT&T power grabbing: GOP budget measure threatens major UW-based Internet service | WisCommunity

More AT&T power grabbing: GOP budget measure threatens major UW-based Internet service

[img_assist|nid=55349|title=Greed not good|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=175|height=131]Months ago I wrote here about how, with newly installed Republican majorities in the legislature and Scott Walker in the governor's chair, AT&T and other telcoms were again pushing yet another, major telecommunications deregulation bill. A bill which in fact has since become law. But highly profitable AT&T and competing private telcoms aren't done grabbing more power for themselves.

First, Scott Walker killed high-speed rail. Now his Republican enablers in the Legislature seem ready to kill affordable high-speed Internet for Wisconsin schools and other public institutions. So much for pushing technological progress, economic development and better schools; we've got corporate mouths to feed!

In the pending state budget bill, private Internet providers including AT&T have managed to get their GOP pals to insert language that would basically destroy WiscNet, one of the state's most technically advanced and useful communications infrastructures. WiscNet is a nonprofit buying cooperative that provides very hgh speed Internet access for researchers and academic staff at University of Wisconsin System campuses as well as for hundreds of Wisconsin schools, libraries and other public institutions.

The National Science Foundation originally funded WiscNet as a powerful and innovative new tool to bring affordable connectivity to the state's education system. Today, 75% of Wisconsin's schools and 95% of its public libraries rely upon WiscNet for Internet access. WiscNet was the model for similar projects in such forward-thinking states as North Carolina. But WiscNet may become smoke, as soon as this week.

The University of Wisconsin System, which developed WiscNet 20 years ago when high-speed Internet didn't even exist as a commercially provided service, recently received tens of millions in federal stimulus grants to expand the network to more state communities, just like the state received federal grants to expand high-speed passenger rail. The WiscNet expansion project is already working to lay some 600 miles of new, high-capacity optical fiber to public locations across the state. 

But a new bill in the state legislature would force the UW System to return $39 million in federal broadband stimulus funding, and it would bar UW from future participation in WiscNet. The provision also bans the UW System from providing telecommunications services or collaborating with any providers. WiscNet basically would disappear. UW would be forced to pay over $8 million annually for Internet access — more than four times its current bill.

Some government budget savings there, huh, Guv Scotty?

Critics of the measure say the GOP-based measure also will force other WiscNet members to purchase broadband Internet service from more expensive private companies like AT&T at a total added cost of millions of dollars. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers said the measure will have "a devastating impact on University of Wisconsin System campuses and our schools and public libraries."

School superintendents and public library directors have agreed with Evers in a series of op ed columns in daily papers across the state, saying the move could double or triple their Internet costs, adding tens of thousands of dollars to their budgets at a time when they're already making cuts.

Ronda Puntney, Wisconsin Library Association president, said WiscNet has become the ISP of choice for 450 educational and community institutions: All the state's public institutions of higher education, 95 percent of public libraries and 80 percent of schools use the service.

Attempting to justify the measure, Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester), co-chair of the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee, told the Wisconsin State Journal that he was concerned about WiscNet providing unfair competition for BadgerNet, a network that uses AT&T as its primary private vendor.

But Puntney noted that's comparing apples and oranges. BadgerNet is a public-private partnership that provides the wide area network, Internet transport, and network services throughout the state. It is, in other words, merely a pipeline. Puntney said WiscNet is one of the Internet service providers (ISPs) from which BadgerNet customers can choose. It provides Internet content that flows through the pipeline.

In other words, in confusing what BadgerNet and WiscNet do, Vos is merely trying to rationalize his eagerness to please AT&T and the Republican Party's other telcom patrons. And patrons they are. The telecom industry reportedly has donated well over $80 million to Wisconsin lawmakers over the past decade, and many of them have been GOP politicians.

So, do you want your public school, library or college to see increased Internet costs? Want your kid and others to have slower Internet service in the classroom or at the library? Want to ensure that AT&T and its pals make more money from public institutions? Well then, call your state legislator today and demand that they vote for this measure. But if you think, like I do, that killing WiscNet is a huge mistake and a travesty of special-interest legislation, get on the horn -- or on the Internet -- and tell your legislator to knock it off, right now.

What you can do: The Legislature is already deliberating. If you live in Wisconsin, take a moment right now to call or email your ;" rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">senator, ;" rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">representative, and the ;" rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">governor. Ask them to remove sections 23–26 of the ;" rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">Omnibus Motion to the UW System bill.

Want to learn more? There are tons of web-based articles on this important issue. Simply open your search engine and type "WiscNet" for a long list of news articles and other information.


June 14, 2011 - 10:03am