- Associated Press - Friday, December 4, 2015

MILWAUKEE (AP) - The Wisconsin Public Service Commission has approved 11 grants to expand high-speed Internet access to thousands of rural residents and businesses in fiscal year 2016.

The grants total $1.5 million, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported (http://bit.ly/1N1VsBh ). The largest, at more than $286,000, went to Wisconsin Independent Network LLC, in Chippewa County. That project would include installation of 5.4 miles of fiber-optic cable to finish the system that runs through Chippewa Falls.

Chippewa County and Internet provider Wisconsin Independent Network will each contribute $130,000 toward that project.

“The president and CEO of the Chippewa County Economic Development Corp. states that several companies have turned down the industrial parks as an expansion location due to the lack of broadband connectivity,” the Public Service Commission noted.

This is the third year the PSC has awarded broadband grants.

In 2014, it approved $500,000 in grants to seven applicants, and in 2015 it awarded $452,579 to seven applicants.

Broadband providers say that without government funds, they couldn’t afford to extend high-speed Internet to rural areas because there aren’t enough customers to justify the expense. The Public Service Commission received 28 broadband expansion grant applications for 2016, totaling $4.4 million.

The applications were evaluated by a four-member panel and final decisions were made by the PSC.

Several telecoms had opposed grant applications, saying expansions would overlap in areas where they provided broadband service. But in at least one case, the Public Service Commission said a telecom had left a community where it had previously offered the high-speed Internet.

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Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com

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