, , , ,

Madison Looks To Close Digital Divide

Residents In Low-Income Neighborhoods To Get Used Computers, High-Speed Internet

Daniel Roland/AP Photo

Internet access is not only helpful, it’s often essential to complete schoolwork, apply for a job or book doctor appointments.

With most Internet providers requiring customers to not only buy broadband, but also TV and phone services, accessing the World Wide Web can be costly.

Now, a company hired by the city of Madison called ResTech will use fiber optic cable to offer Internet starting at just under $10 a month in a new pilot program called Connecting Madison. City officials hope the program will reduce the number of homes in Dane County without Internet access, which is currently 14,000 residences.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

For $9.99 a month, eligible customers can get 10 megabits (Mbps) per second. Higher speed Internet, up to 100 Mbps, will cost more.

A household with one or two users using the Internet for basic functions like email or social media, would need basic service of 1-2 Mbps per second, according to a Household Broadband Guide published by the Federal Communications Commission in 2014. However, last year the standard for high speed greatly increased, when the FCC raised the definition to 25 Mbps.

In addition to more affordable online access, 650 computers will be donated by local corporations, and the nonprofit DaneNet will provide digital training to residents.

The computers will be refurbished by Cascade Asset Management. Neil Peters-Michaud, the company’s CEO, said if local corporations set aside 10 percent of the computers they replace every year, they could provide enough for the pilot program and other digital partnerships.

“When we ask for donations, though, we do not want people to clean out their junk drawers and junk closets and give us a 20-year-old computer,” Peters-Michaud said. “We do have processes to recycle those properly. We are looking for newer computers that everyone should be proud of using.”

DaneNet Executive Director Alyssa Kenney said to be eligible residents have to show proof of address, income and attend a technology education class.

ResTech’s Bryan Schenker said service is just weeks away for the first of four areas getting introductory service.

“Construction is underway in the Darbo-Worthington neighborhood,” Schenker said. “We’re working on the laterals, or the connections, to the property’s now.”

Other areas participating in the pilot project are Allied Drive, Brentwood and Kennedy Heights Apartments.

Lauren Kieliszewski, chair of the Madison Common Council’s Digital Technology Committee, said surveys show many residents in these neighborhoods have smart phones, but don’t have computers needed to do schoolwork and apply for jobs.

“We’re looking forward to seeing the pilot progress,” Kieliszewski said of the program. “And to seeing the results of these efforts to address Madison’s digital divide.”

Related Stories