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New Federal Funds Address Broadband Dilemma for Rural WI Students

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Friday, December 3, 2021   

PRAIRIE DU SAC, Wis. -- Broadband gaps affect many facets of life, including education. The new federal infrastructure plan includes money to expand high-speed internet access, potentially making learning easier in rural Wisconsin.

The state is poised to receive at least $100 million to help with broadband gaps, with the possibility of more money based on need.

Kim Kaukl, executive director of the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance, said with broadband infrastructure still hard to come by in many remote areas, students face barriers, even in the absence of a global health crisis.

He pointed out being connected can give them a boost with day-to-day assignments.

"Many of our kids, when they get home, they do not have the connectivity," Kaukl explained. "Or, if they have the connectivity, they don't have the download speed to do the research that maybe they need to do for a report, or a project that they're working on."

He said even when many districts around the country were doing distance learning a year ago, smaller schools in Wisconsin had to get creative to maintain face-to-face time. He suggested it was the only real way to ensure learning was not disrupted.

As the funds are distributed, Kaukl emphasized he hopes local internet providers play a prominent role because of their connections to local communities.

Kaukl added establishing more Wi-Fi capability and higher download speeds not only helps families be prepared for the next crisis, but also for snow days. As for schools, the opportunities allow them to avoid falling behind in terms of technology.

"I would say many of our schools are pretty well set," Kaukl acknowledged. "But we've got some areas and pockets, yet that are still struggling with that."

Last year, 80% of districts in a survey from the Wisconsin Educational Media and Technology Association said they need funding for technology training for staff.

According to federal officials, more than 5% of Wisconsin residents live in broadband infrastructure "deserts," and 14% of households don't have an internet subscription.


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