WiscNet Activists Make Wisconsin Lawmakers Say Uncle

Whoever said you can’t fight city hall has never been to the great state of Wisconsin. State legislators (admittedly a bit more powerful than city hall) found themselves overwhelmed with calls after trying to cut the throat of Wisconsin’s state educational Internet system. The public phoned members of Wisconsin’s state Assembly and browbeat them into submission.

The calls were so overwhelming, according to published reports, that lawmakers in the state immediately put together revised legislation for WiscNet that would allow it to receive funding from the University of Wisconsin’s Division of Information Technology. The Assembly quickly added provisions to the state budget, with final approval taking place early this morning. WiscNet provides Internet for most of Wisconsin’s public schools and libraries, and many citizens in the state think it is a vital and important service.

Earlier this week it didn’t look good for WiscNet; partisan battles over state finances put a target on the proverbial back of the network, much to the joy of AT&T. Earlier this month an Assembly Joint Finance Committee proposal wanted to force WiscNet to separate itself from the UW-Madison Division as of July 1, 2012 and give up $1.4 million in funds from the UW system in 2012-13. This would have forced some schools to opt for Badgernet, a telecom-backed nonprofit that relies heavily on AT&T as its primary vendor.

The budget legislation would also have barred the UW system from receiving or dispersing any funds from the federal government’s broadband stimulus program and would have forced the university to return around $40 million in funds.

But Monday turned out to be D-Day for Internet, community, and educational groups, who stormed the phone lines of legislators with protests against the proposals.

"Legislators said, ‘please don’t call us any more,’" University of Wisconsin economic development professor Andy Lewis told Ars Technica.

Ars Technica has the full story here, but the take-away is that people should fight hard for the things they believe are important. Sometimes – even in the toughest of fights – you can win.

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