Ald. Maurice Cheeks speaks at the kickoff event for Connecting Madison, the city's pilot project to close the digital divide. (Photo by Mark Clear)

To combat the “Digital Divide” — the gulf between those who have ready access to computers and the Internet and those who do not — Mayor Paul Soglin and Alderperson Maurice Cheeks announced the new “Connecting Madison” program Sept. 6 at a press conference at the Allied Drive Community Center.

“’Connecting Madison’ is something that the [Common Council’s] Digital Technology Committee has been working on for the better part of a year in an effort to provide affordable Internet access to our residents here in Madison,” Cheeks tells Madison365. “I’m really excited that my colleagues supported this and that Allied Drive got to be one of the pilot project areas.”

Maurice Cheeks
Maurice Cheeks

Cheeks represents the Allied Drive area that was chosen to be a pilot project area along with Darbo Worthington, Brentwood, and Kennedy Heights Apartments. “What we’re trying to do is provide affordable Internet and computer access to neighborhoods that we know, according to school district data, lack ready access to Internet needed for school and for jobs and for homework and more,” Cheeks says. “It’s the beginning of hopefully moving us towards affordable Internet for all of our residents.”

Lack of affordable Internet access affects people in their everyday lives. Children may not have sufficient access for their school and study needs, adults may have difficulty applying for jobs, doing online banking, scheduling doctor’s appointments, communicating with friends and relatives, or performing so many other functions that many people take for granted.

“This is just the first step. Over the course of the next year or so, hopefully this pilot will have great success and we will learn from it and be able to expand it to other areas like Bridge/Lake Point/Waunona, south Madison, and eventually, citywide,” Cheeks says. “If somebody lacks access to Internet in our city or our society, they are at an enormous disadvantage in just about everything.”

Kids use the computers at the Boys and Girls Club on Allied Drive.
Kids use the computers at the Boys and Girls Club on Allied Drive.

Soglin and Cheeks were joined at the press conference by City Information Technology Director Paul Kronberger, local funders and officials from DaneNet, Cascade Asset Management and ResTech. City alders and residents from the Allied Drive neighborhood were also at the event to discuss specifics of Connecting Madison. The four city pilot areas to benefit from this program will be able to obtain internet service, donated refurbished computers for qualified residents, and digital literacy training for residents.

“This is a small step that Madison can take – with tremendous community collaboration and partnerships – to improve people’s lives,” Cheeks says.

The basic plan will be for 10Mbps internet service (upstream and downstream) and will cost subscribers just $9.99 per month from city-selected vendor ResTech Services. Additionally, optional television and telephone services will be available. Construction of the fiber optic network and installation of network electronics will be completed by the end of 2016. Approximately 1050 families will be eligible for the service.

“Internet access is rolling out right now. People are already calling in. We’re getting started right away,” Cheeks says.

“It’s an exciting step for the community,” Cheeks adds. “I am particularly happy for the Allied Drive area. We are building this awesome park in the area and are already laying the groundwork for it for this to be one of the first parks in the city of Madison that will have free Wi-Fi access. That’s pretty incredible.”