As digital technology becomes more of a necessity for work, education, health care, business, job applications, and participation in civic life, it is vital for every Wisconsinite to have access to reliable high speed internet. According to the White House however, 14 percent of Wisconsin households still do not have an internet subscription service and 5.5 percent of Wisconsinites live in areas with no broadband infrastructure. This is prevalent in many households within rural communities across the state that face affordability and accessibility issues. This disparity is known as the digital divide, and there is more to this issue than inaccessibility to affordable and reliable high speed internet. So what is being done to address this disparity?
Congress back in 2021 passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which allocates a minimum of $100 million to help provide broadband coverage across the state, providing access to over 300,000 Wisconsinites who lack reliable high speed internet. This bill includes provisions such as infrastructure grants, focusing on providing aid to underserved locations; and service plan subsidies for the disadvantaged, directly addressing the affordability barriers around equitable access to broadband.
Back in 2020 Governor Tony Evers signed Executive Order #80 creating the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband Access. Along with creating annual broadband reports, this task force works with the Governor and Wisconsin State Legislature on policies in regards to broadband and internet access. The group is trying to adhere to a timeline in order to accomplish a number of their goals including: “By 2025, all homes and businesses within the state have access to high-speed broadband that provides a download speed of at least 25 Mbps and an upload speed of at least 3 Mbps.”
Since then, the Governor in 2021 signed a bill that would invest $129 million into the expansion of broadband internet and recently announced that Wisconsin will receive $5,952,197 to plan for the “deployment and adoption of affordable, equitable, and reliable high-speed internet throughout the state.” Some Milwaukee nonprofits are also working to address this disparity in internet accessibility within Wisconsin.
Hmong American Friendship Association and Greater Milwaukee Urban League have goals to expand broadband access and digital education for local communities who are in dire need for these services. According to Milwaukee Business News, Hmong American Friendship Association received a $25,000 AT&T Foundation grant to expand their program that helps Hmong students in afterschool with homework, digital literacy training and tutoring in their school computer lab.
The Greater Milwaukee Urban League’s mission on their website is to empower communities and change lives for African Americans living in the greater Milwaukee area. The group has received nearly $100,000 in grant funding between two grants from Spectrum Digital Education totaling $70,000 and a $25,000 grant from the AT&T Foundation. The AT&T grant is to provide access to technology for African American students in Milwaukee and one of the Spectrum grants is a $45,000 Digital Education grant to create a space where students in need receive digital training workshops to help them build new skills and complete homework during the school year.
Hopefully with these investments on a local, state, and federal level, the digital divide in Wisconsin will shrink significantly by the end of the current decade.