If 2011 was “The Year of Voter ID,” then 2012 is shaping up to be “The Year of Voter ID Challenges.” In addition to the Department of Justice’s decision in December to deny preclearance to a voter ID law in South Carolina – a requirement under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, under which the state still qualifies – Wisconsin Circuit Judge David Flanagan issued a temporary injunction this week against his state’s new voter ID law. The order bars Governor Scott Walker and the Government Accountability Board from enforcing or implementing the law until a second trial in mid-April can be held to consider a permanent injunction.
Since state legislatures around the country have started their sessions in 2012, legislators and governors alike have been recognizing the importance of broadband (or high speed Internet) to growing state economies. Governors in states as diverse as Hawaii, Maryland, Missouri, and Wyoming highlighted broadband initiatives in their state of the state speeches, as more and more of our leaders are realizing that without broadband, the U.S. economy is not going to produce jobs or the highly-skilled workers needed to compete in a global marketplace.
In a last minute amendment to its heavily controversial state budget bill, the Wisconsin Joint Committee on Finance added a provision that would greatly reduce broadband access for schools, libraries, and university researchers. The target of this harmful proposal is WiscNet, a not-for-profit Internet Service Provider cooperative that offers inexpensive and flexible broadband service to anchor institutions, provides online learning resources for public schools and libraries, and allows university researchers fast, inexpensive data upload services unavailable from private providers. This proposal by Governor Walker would force WiscNet to return $39 million in federal funds that would be used to lay fiber-optic cables across Wisconsin and would sever the relationship between WiscNet and the University of Wisconsin, which founded WiscNet over 20 years ago. In addition to negatively impacting the University’s connectivity and research capacity, the loss of this funding means that fewer rural community members would have immediate access to broadband.