While AT&T has significant political influence everywhere (they're the top campaign contributor in any
sector since 1990), they have particular power in Wisconsin, where lawmakers there literally allow AT&T to write the laws. A few years ago that resulted in one of the worst video franchise reform laws ever passed
, a law that eliminated eminent domain rights, consumer protections, and legalized deployment cherry picking. More recently, AT&T convinced the state to give back broadband stimulus funds
that would have been used to improve police, fire, hospital, school and library connectivity across some 380 Wisconsin communities.
While politicians have pretended the move is about fiscal responsibility, the move is protectionist. AT&T's simply concerned about protecting their very expensive, out-dated services (provided in part via a state project dubbed BadgerNet) from faster, better connectivity efforts. As such, AT&T has told Wisconsin lawmakers to not only give back $23 million in broadband funds, but they've also successfully convinced them to both cripple and defund the University of Wisconsin WiscNet
, which provides high-speed Internet to most schools and libraries across the state. WiscNet was created in 1991 by a grant from the National Science Association, and AT&T Has been trying to kill the cooperative.
The move was accomplished via an eleventh hour provision AT&T managed to get inserted into the budget, in a state ranked 43rd
in broadband access nationwide. Christopher Mitchell at Community Broadband Networks directs our attention
to the fact that Internet 2 President H. David Lambert tried to help prevent WiscNet's defunding, writing a letter
to Wisconsin's Governor Walker regarding his since-successful effort to help AT&T kill WiscNet:
Yet, just when other states in the country are scrambling to invest in network infrastructure to help their universities rise to meet the international research and education challenge, this legislation could essentially disconnect Wisconsin from the global research it now leads. The result would be devastating. As the only intensive research institution in the United States that would be barred from participating in its own networks, Wiscnet and Internet2, the University, with respect to the ability to participate in global research, would become an immediate equivalent of a third-world University.
AT&T's ability to crush any and all public Wisconsin broadband benefit projects would be slightly-less obxnoxious if AT&T was providing the kind of infrastructure that made all of these projects unnecessary, but they're simply not
. AT&T connectivity in many parts of Wisconsin consists of over-priced T1s, and lawmakers there are more than happy to write laws protecting AT&T ability to not only over charge for outdated infrastructure, but ensuring that connectivity-strained communities have no alternatives. Wisconsin's AT&T-run government is the future for all states without serious U.S. political reform, and the result will inevitably be disastrous for the future of cutting-edge connectivity.Update
: After some significant public backlash today it appears that a brief stay of execution may have been granted WiscNet late today
, though it appears to be more of a delay than a stay. According to the Wisconsin State Journal
, it looks like the WiscNet program will remain unaltered for the next two years while the project is "studied," during which AT&T certainly will be busy trying to finish the job they began.