Low-income students who struggle to compete academically without Internet access could gain free access in their neighborhoods under a city initiative to address the “digital divide.”
The discrepancy of Internet access in low versus high socioeconomic status neighborhoods creates struggles that are long lasting for students Ald. Scott Resnick, District 8, said in an event on access at the Memorial Union Monday.
“What it takes to compete and get into the University of Wisconsin, to be able to use computers regularly in the household, to turn in homework in the classroom, to be able to look things up on Wikipedia and to then try and get into the flagship university we have here creates a digital divide,” Resnick said.
He said even if a child does not have a computer in the home, they are expected to be academically competitive with the students who do have this privilege, which makes academic life very difficult for the kids in the lower income homes.
Resnick said the McDonald’s on Park Street is filled with high school kids after 8 p.m. every night, because the library closes at 7 p.m. and the only other place in the neighborhood with Internet at that hour is McDonald’s.
The city has created a budget amendment of $150,000 to try and install Internet access in a low-income neighborhood. Resnick said although creating a Madison wireless company would allow for job growth and promote access across neighborhoods, the city is unable to do such a thing.
The school districts in Madison also want to have a technology plan for the students, Resnick said. He said the schools want students to have a one-to-one device access so if a student does not have a computer at home, the district will provide them with one or a similar working technological device.
City Chief Information Officer Paul Kronberger said the bigger point this initiative seeks to address is there are between 15,000 and 40,000 students in Dane County who lack Internet access. He said this is something Dane County takes note of and wants to address with this program.
A City of Madison statement said in a recent study, the Pew Foundation found 88 percent of households earning $75,000 or more have a high speed Internet connection at home. That percentage drops to 54 percent for households earning less than $30,000, it said.
Dane County Supervisor Leland Pan, District 5, said while the county is not responsible for the specifics of the project, he thinks it will generally be a positive thing to bring Internet access to various communities in Madison.
Resnick said the city will focus on some neighborhoods in which Internet installment will be easiest since there is no guarantee this idea will work.
The statement said city staff will be working with technology and community nonprofit leaders and the Digital Technology Committee and that the project plan should be ready by early summer.