New BadgerNet Contract Makes State a Leader in Providing Affordable Broadband to Schools

Gov. Scott Walker and State Supt. Tony Evers announced a new state broadband contract on Tuesday (Sept.6) that will significantly increase the capacity of BadgerNet, the state’s high-speed internet pipeline, which serves schools in all 72 counties while substantially reducing costs, saving the state about $8 million per year. The contract will also help connect additional schools throughout the state to the network.

One of the WASB’s lobbying goals has been to provide schools with greater bandwidth at lower cost. The WASB thanks those state officials and industry leaders who worked hard to secure the new deal. Through their efforts, the lower costs at new increased levels of bandwidth will make Wisconsin a leader in the nation in providing affordable broadband to every school.

Schools participating in the state’s TEACH (Technology for Educational ACHievement) Program and BadgerNet will be eligible to receive bandwidth of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $100/month. In addition, one gigabit per second (1 Gbps) service will be available to all TEACH/Badgernet customers for $250/month. (More details about pricing, bandwidth amounts, and the migration schedule are expected to be available by the end of the month.)

The new deal means school districts can get gigabit per second level (1Gps) access for $3,000 per year. A gigabit is 1,000 megabits. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as well as other educational technology experts have set a goal of providing each student with a megabit per second of internet capacity. The new BadgerNet contract will enable a typical school district with 1,000 students to mean this goal in an affordable manner.

The additional good news is that federal grants available through the expanded federal E-Rate program will likely provide about two-thirds of the funding needed to upgrade routers, switches and provide additional Wi-Fi access points in classrooms to enable the expanded broadband capacity to be distributed throughout school buildings. Those equipment upgrades will be needed to enable schools to benefit from the additional broadband capacity available under the new contract and to accommodate greater student usage through 1:1 computing initiatives that provide devices to all students.

For about 250 small and rural school districts in the state, the new $7.5 million TEACH Infrastructure Grant Program (see separate post) enacted as part of the 2015-17 state budget will significantly fund the remaining costs for new equipment, meaning many eligible districts that apply for and receive such grants will pay little or nothing for the needed infrastructure improvements.