Wisconsin schools and libraries rely on Internet service that’s often inadequate and overpriced, with the true cost obscured by millions of dollars in government subsidies, according to research by a University of Wisconsin Extension professor that has pitted him against the state’s telecommunications industry.
Andy Lewis, a professor and community development specialist at the UW Extension in Madison, says the issue is twofold: Schools and libraries aren’t getting the broadband service they need to keep pace with increasing demands of technology and learning, and taxpayers could be paying up to 10 times too much for the service through a telecommunications network called BadgerNet.
About 80% of eligible schools and libraries in Wisconsin are part of the BadgerNet system, which operates in all 72 counties of the state.
Under the system, schools, libraries and other public institutions can get Internet services at a low price, such as $250 a month for a 100-megabit-per-second connection. But the actual cost to taxpayers — the amount paid to the Internet service provider — is $2,480 a month when federal E-rate subsidies are included, according to Lewis.
“My point is that it’s all taxpayer-funded. These important community anchor institutions are currently underserved and overcharged,” he said.
But then the solution is obvious…
One system that appears to be getting a good broadband deal is the Waukesha School District. It does not use BadgerNet.
I suspect that a lot of schools and libraries sign up for BadgerNet without much thought and do little, if any, comparison shopping. I don’t blame them too much. After all, Badgernet is supposed to be designed specifically to provide them with good, cheap service. If the schools and libraries starting really going to the market looking for bids, I’d wager that the market will respond with more favorable options for the taxpayers.