As ThinkProgress previously reported, the North Carolina state house voted to gut the ability of the state’s municipalities to offer cheap and fast public broadband this past April. By doing so, these legislators were acting on behalf of some of the nation’s most powerful telecommunications companies, like Time Warner.
Now, another telecommunications company, AT&T, has found some Wisconsin Republicans to do its bidding and insert legislative language in a budget proposal that would effectively kill the ability of the University of Wisconsin system to support the public broadband system known as WiscNet. In fact, the legislation would even force the university system to give back federal funds that it received to extend broadband access:
The University of Wisconsin System would be forced to return about $37 million in federal funds intended to extend broadband Internet across Wisconsin, under a provision passed by the Legislature’s budget committee Friday. The legislation would also prohibit UW System campuses from supporting WiscNet, a cooperative that brings high-speed Internet to most schools and libraries across the state. Campus leaders say they fear the change could cripple the network. […] But Republican lawmakers say the university should not be in the business of providing telecommunications services.
“It shuts down the research business. It shuts down the education business, and we all work together to try to create efficiencies,” said Dave Lois, the director of WiscNet, in response to the legislative language. As the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Christopher Mitchell writes, the inserted language would actually prohibit the University of Wisconsin system from participating in any non-profit or cooperative telecommunications services — essentially barring it from providing any competition from the state’s major telecom corporation, AT&T. The company and its employees put $76,684 into Wisconsin’s 2010 elections, and it looks like it is getting a great return on its investment.