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City project would put Internet in low-income homes

Published On: Feb 23 2014 08:29:49 AM CST   Updated On: Feb 25 2014 12:16:54 PM CST
MADISON, Wis. -

The city of Madison is looking to put Internet connections into neighborhoods in need.

A $150,000 pilot program put into this year's city budget would put low-cost or free Internet into homes of Madison School District students on free and reduced lunch in one city neighborhood.

The idea is to address the "digital divide," or when low-income students fall behind in school because they don't have access to the Internet.

"The library and schools all have Internet access, but they close at a certain hour," Alder Scott Resnick said. "If students want to turn in their homework at 10 o'clock, you find that they end up at third places like McDonald's."

Goodman South Madison Library Manager Michael Spelman said their branch has the most patrons using the library for computers than anywhere else in the city. He said both adults and kids would use the stations and Wi-Fi longer if they could.

"Every day there are people on the computers like, 'Oh man,' When they turn off at 10 minutes to 8 p.m.," Spelman said. "They understand those are our hours, and I wish we could do more. But if there is access at homes in this community it would be fantastic."

The city has put out a request for proposals to get Internet into at least one neighborhood for low-income families.

"When you're trying to make the decision of feeding your family or how you get to work or get childcare, Internet falls really low on the priority list," Resnick said. "We find that it is our most troubled neighborhoods that don't have more resources to help empower students."

Eight neighborhoods are on the list of possibilities for the pilot program. The south side has a good chance because fiberline runs under the streets already. But those who serve the community say that's not the only reason why they're deserving.

"We have higher unemployment here than elsewhere in the city in this neighborhood," Spelman said. "We have a larger education gap when compared to the city as a whole, and there's just a lot of need in this community."

The city information technology department and community resources division will decide by this summer what neighborhoods will be eligible. They hope to serve a few thousand homes.

Resnick said Madison would be the first city in the country to try out a project like this.

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