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Auditors, UW, tangle about broadband

State auditors want to know where the 26 UW campuses will get their Internet service starting in summer 2013.

All UW schools are currently on Wisc-Net - a non-profit group that provides high-speed Web service to the university, public libraries, and most K-12 school districts throughout the state.

Wisc-Net gets most of its money from its tax-funded users. GOP lawmakers cried foul, saying the government shouldn't compete with the private sector, and they passed a law ordering UW schools to cease their Wisc-Net service and get it elsewhere.

The Legislative Audit Bureau has asked UW officials to explain how it will obtain Internet service - and how it will be paid for.

UW President Kevin Reilly is asking legislators to reconsider parts of the law, or students and taxpayers will pay higher bills. He says it costs each institution about $500 a month for the Internet - and he says private operators charge around $1,100 a month for the same service.

Republican Legislative Audit Committee co-chair Samantha Kerkman says it's important to offer high-speed Web service to public institutions, but not at the expense of private firms. Democratic co-chair Kathleen Vinehout sides with the UW, saying lawmakers must consider whether the Internet is a vehicle for public good or a commodity that's only offered to make a profit.

Also, auditors said the UW might have broken state law by making over $2 million in pre-payments for future service. Laws generally prohibit state agencies from using current appropriations to pay for future services.

Reilly says the UW will recover the payments by the end of June 2013.