A week of events Oct. 7-11 will highlight Madison’s gap in technology access and some of the efforts to reach the 30,000 or so Dane County families without home internet.
“We felt like it was important to celebrate it locally and really highlight the work that our organization is doing in the community, but also the work that librarians and adult educators and all sorts of people are doing around this issue,” said DANEnet executive director Alyssa Kenney.
The first event of the week is Monday night, with a free night of coding for girls from 6-7:30 p.m. at Hawthorne Library, 2707 E. Washington Ave. No registration is required for the event, which is recommended for girls in fourth through 10th grade. Volunteers will teach a short lesson and work with participants to create a project using code.
The next morning, Cap Times reporter Erik Lorenzsonn will moderate a panel on internet access with a group of leaders and policymakers in the industry. Angela Sifer, executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance; Sarah Edgerton, Madison’s chief information officer; Randy Stoecker, a professor in the Department of Community and Environmental Sociology at the University of Wisconsin, and Michael Gay, senior vice president of the Madison Region Economic Partnership, will participate.
Tickets for the 7:30-9 a.m. breakfast at Epic Systems are $10 and can be purchased on DANEnet’s website.
Digital inequity is a “complicated issue,” Kenney said, that requires collaboration among many groups to fix.
“No one entity can do it, so I think it’s really important to bring lots of partners and policymakers together to have the discussion and hear about it as a group,” she said.
On Wednesday, Oct. 9, a lunch and learn event at the Spark Building, 821 E. Washington Ave., will provide a chance for professionals and volunteers who work with low-income communities to learn about low-cost internet access programs and strategies to help families get access. Materials provided will include a packet of informational fliers in multiple languages. While the event is free, registration is required as space is limited, according to the DANEnet website.
Kenney said a lack of home internet access is one of the most significant issues in the digital equity push, and about 30,000 homes in Dane County are without it, most of whom can’t afford the options available.
“That’s linked to the homework gap, to economic opportunity gaps, even whether you’re banked or unbanked, what rate you get when you take out a loan,” she said. “All of those types of things are connected to having home internet.”
A pair of events Thursday night will give families a chance to get involved again, with Kids Code Madison at Hawthorne Library from 6-7:30 p.m. and a low-cost internet informational session at the Goodman South Library branch from 6:30-8 p.m.
The coding event is part of a weekly Kids Code Madison series for upper elementary and middle school students. The informational session, in English and Spanish, will provide help to adults seeking to enroll in low-cost home internet. Documentation of income will be required to qualify for the low-cost programs.
The final Madison event is from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center, 1625 Northport Drive, where adults can receive free tech support on their smart phones, desktop computers and laptops. Volunteers on site will “teach valuable repair skills, answer questions and give technical advice about your device,” the DANEnet website states.
Kenney is hopeful the week of events can bring awareness to an issue that isn’t necessarily common knowledge.
“I’m just hoping to get that story to the front of people’s minds, so they understand there’s people in fast food restaurant parking lots working on job applications on their cell phones, and that that’s a problem in our community,” she said. “I hope people come to events and listen and learn and celebrate with us.
“My vision is that Madison becomes the most connected place in the country and we’re known for really, really high connectivity and digital literacy across our population here,” she said.
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