we must save WiscNet

Today I’m writing about an organization working largely behind the scenes to provide technical services to your children and your community. Perhaps you’re not familiar with WiscNet, but those of us who earn a living in the information technology field, especially in Wisconsin education, know about and greatly appreciate WiscNet. Frankly, we depend on them and we need them.

Recent changes in the proposed Wisconsin state budget are jeopardizing the very existence of WiscNet. WiscNet is a consortium of 450+ cities, counties, K-12 school districts, colleges, universities and hospitals. The consortium allows its members to access the internet at a VERY small fraction of the cost of doing so through commercial providers like AT&T and RoadRunner. If WiscNet goes away, the cost of internet access in our schools and libraries will increase exponentially, as we will then be required to purchase internet access individually on the open market.

I know what you’re thinking. “I’ve never heard of WiscNet. Things can’t be that bad. I don’t know enough about all this technology stuff. This post is too long, I don’t have time to read it all.” PLEASE, I BEG YOU, don’t discount this. WiscNet has over 450 member organizations whose constituents need the consortium. And more such entities (like both school districts here in De Pere) are working on plans to utilize WiscNet’s internet services soon.

I sent an e-mail to Chad Weininger, my representative in the Wisconsin Assembly, earlier today. Perhaps the best way to explain my concern and how important WiscNet really is, would be to just let you read my e-mail:

Date: Mon, 06 Jun 2011 10:47:14 -0500
From: Scott Crevier <scott.crevier@snc.edu>
To: Chad Weininger <rep.weininger@legis.wi.gov>
Subject: Wisconsin budget and WiscNet

Chad, I’m wondering if you can provide some information for me. I’m hearing from colleagues that the Joint Finance Committee passed an amendment to the state budget that I’m concerned about. Specifically, there were four bullet points (see below) added to the budget on Friday that significantly impact WiscNet and its ability to provide technology services and research for schools and colleges in the state.

Before making a conclusion on where I stand with this, I’m trying to gather as much information as possible. But I will say that as a higher education web site developer, I’m quite concerned about any budget proposals that would negatively impact WiscNet and put at risk the technological successes we as a state have enjoyed over the years.

WiscNet has given us the structure that allows small institutions like St. Norbert College to work side-by-side with the largest of schools in our state. Such collaborations don’t just benefit participating institutions. The solutions we create become assets to taxpayers throughout the state, helping us to stay ahead of our neighbors. This is especially important as we compete directly with other states to attract companies who can bring jobs into Wisconsin. These companies must feel a sense of confidence in our infrastructure and our ability to provide technology services, like high speed internet access, throughout the state.

Though I’m writing to you as a taxpayer, and not as an official representative of St. Norbert College, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one specific example of how WiscNet benefits our community. SNC is right in the middle of a project to establish a fiber internet connection to UWGB. This is a cooperative arrangement with the City of De Pere, both De Pere school districts and Sybil Hopp School. Since UWGB is a hub site on the WiscNet internet backbone, this fiber connection will bring high speed internet access directly to students in the entire community, and at a fraction of the cost of each of us doing it on our own. This just wouldn’t be possible if not for the internet service provided by WiscNet. I’ve also heard that our neighbors in Green Bay are considering a similar connection.

We can’t be complacent in our technology planning. We have to know that not only are we meeting our needs today, but that we will also meet our needs tomorrow. WiscNet gives us the organizational structure to do just that. The WiscNet alliance of over 400 school districts, colleges, municipalities, hospitals and libraries allows us to do just that. None of us could even think about doing this alone. Just think of all the citizens, taxpayers and students represented by these members: http://www.wiscnet.net/members

Chad, your relationship with the students here at SNC has given you and me the chance to speak about our budget. I’ve appreciated your attention and your thoughtful responses to my questions. I hope you know that I’m just as concerned about our state’s financial problems as you are. But cutting support for WiscNet is much more than a budget line item. The impact of such a move would be felt throughout our entire state for a very long time. As such, I’ve copied this e-mail to a few colleagues here at SNC and WiscNet, as well as my representatives on the De Pere City Council.

Quite frankly Chad, I’m concerned about anything that jeopardizes the very existence of WiscNet. So, can you provide some information about this from your perspective? Is what I’m hearing about the budget changes true? Are we cutting support for WiscNet? Is there due consideration for the successes of WiscNet and the significant returns we’ve received from our tax dollars? Do you support these specific changes to our budget?

Thanks for your time!

1. Telecommunication Services: Prohibit the Board of Regents, the UW System, any UW institution, or the UW Extension, directly or indirectly, from doing any of the following: (a) receiving funds from any award from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) under the U.S. Department of Commerce for the Building Community Capacity through Broadband (BCCB) project; (b) disbursing, spending, loaning, granting, or in any other way distributing or committing to distribute any funds received with respect to, budgeted to, or allocated for the BCCB project; and (c) participating in the planning, organization, funding, implementation or operation of the BCCB project. In addition, requires the Board of Regents to reduce the amount expended on telecommunications services during the 2011-12 biennium by the total value of any funds, goods, or services that have been or will be distributed by the or on behalf of the Board of Regents, the UW System, any UW institution, or the UW Extension on or after May 1, 2011, to any participant, contractor, or supplier related to the BCCB project.

2. Modify current law to specify that the Board of Regents shall not offer, resell, or provide telecommunications services, directly or indirectly, that are available from a private telecommunications carrier to the general public or to any other public or private entity. Define telecommunications services as including data and voice over Internet protocol services, broadband access and transport, information technology services, Internet access services, and unlit fiber.

3. Prohibit the Board of Regents, the UW System, any UW institution, or the UW Extension from becoming or remaining a member, shareholder, or partner in or with any company, corporation, non-profit association, joint venture, cooperative, partnership, consortium, or any other individual or entity that offers, resells, or provides telecommunications services or information technology services to members of the general public, or to any private entity, or to any public entity other than the Board, the UW System, any UW institution, or the UW Extension.

4. Specify that WiscNet could no longer be a department or office within the UW-Madison Division of Information Technology beginning on July 1, 2012, and delete $1,400,000 PR from the UW System related to WiscNet in 2012-13. Require the Legislative Audit Bureau to conduct a program audit and a financial audit of the Board of Regents’ use of telecommunication services and relationship with WiscNet.

Please contact your elected representatives in our state government about this. For my neighbors here in De Pere,  your representatives are Chad Weininger and Rob Cowles (perhaps you saw them both in our Memorial Day parade last week). And if all of this has you confused and wondering what the heck is going on, and you’re not even sure where you stand on this, then at least ask your representative just that. What the heck is going on?