What is the state of broadband in Wisconsin?
Schools and libraries can no longer accomplish their mission without affordable internet access that is sufficient for every user’s needs at all times.
What counts as “sufficient” is a topic of debate. SETDA, the State Educational Technology Director’s Association, has defined standards that have been accepted by the FCC for E-rate purposes. As of July 1, 2017, the SETDA standards call for schools to provide 1 Mbps of bandwidth per student so that a school with 700 students would need a broadband connection to the internet of at least 700 Mbps.
Wisconsin took giant steps toward meeting the SETDA standards in 2017, when TEACH Wisconsin announced that it would provide its sites with 1 Gbps of bandwidth for $250/month, and 100 Mbps for $100/month. Once all BadgerNet schools have been moved to the new BadgerNet, every district with more than 100 students will be eligible to receive 1 Gbps of bandwidth.
Challenges remain, as there are still 43 schools in Wisconsin that do not have fiber connections. However, TEACH has stated its intention and determination to bring fiber to every school in the state that requests it.
Once fiber goes into every school, the bandwidth problem will be solved in Wisconsin, in the sense that fiber can scale to provide however much bandwidth is needed by any school under any imaginable situation. To give an idea of this: a single strand of fiber, connected to the necessary equipment at both ends, can supply 100 Gbps of bandwidth in both directions. A typical fiber cable running into a school contains 96 strands.
Unfortunately, the cost will continue to be an issue for some districts. BadgerNet schools are assured of receiving excellent pricing as long as the TEACH program exists, and many schools are part of “CANs” -- community area networks that provide low prices through cooperative purchasing. Additionally, many school districts own or lease the fiber that connects them to the Internet, and the cost of construction spread over 20 years yields an annual cost that is often very low. But schools that are not connected to BadgerNet, are not in a CAN, and don’t own or lease their own fiber have to purchase service from a commercial provider, and in many cases, there is only one option. These account for the 80+ school districts that Education SuperHighway has identified as having to pay too much for their broadband services.
TEACH is determined to provide BadgerNet service to every school that requests it, and when this is accomplished every school in the state should have sufficient affordable bandwidth.