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'Getting people online is going to help save lives': Coronavirus exposes digital divide in the U.S.

Posted: 7:43 PM, Mar 26, 2020
Updated: 2020-03-26 20:50:20-04
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MILWAUKEE — As the coronavirus disrupts peoples' lives across the country, it's exposing the scope of the digital divide. Now more than ever, people need access to computers and the internet, as they work from home and their kids get home-schooled. However, a Milwaukee business is trying to fill that gap.

Over the past few weeks, Janita Bonner was concerned, watching the coronavirus outbreak force businesses to shut down.

"It was one of those things, where I'm like, how am I even going to work from home?" Bonner said.

She's the Adult Education Team Lead at the YWCA in Milwaukee, working as a GED instructor. Before she knew it, they closed too.

"My manager was giving us tips and tools on how we could actually communicate to our students and just stay connected during this time," Bonner said.

However, Bonner and some of her colleagues didn't have technology capable of teaching their classes from home.

This is where Digital Bridge stepped in, a Milwaukee company that provides internet access and affordable computers that have been wiped clean, to low-income families and nonprofits across the country.

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Owner, Jeff Hanson said demand for computer and internet access spiked last Tuesday when states started to limit face-to-face contact severely.

Volunteers have been working around the clock to distribute devices for those in need.

Hanson said they're selling 20 times as many computers as they usually do in a week and a half, as organizations and schools look to get their refurbished devices as soon as possible.

It reveals the enormity of the digital divide in the community. According to U.S. Census data from 2014 to 2018, nearly 20 percent of Milwaukee residents don't own computers.

"We're always talking about the need for technology and getting people connected, but you know we need it today," Hanson said.

By doing so, Hanson said they're also going to help keep people social distance and stay home. "Getting people online is going to help save lives essentially," Hanson said.

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It's a blessing for Bonner.

"I'm grateful that I'm able to check on my students and make sure that they're doing well," Bonner said.

While the future remains unknown, Bonner's thankful that she and her students can have some regularity in their lives during these uncertain times.

"We still want to be that comfort and be that support to them during this time," Bonner said.

Digital Bridge is in desperate need of corporate computers. For information on how to recycle and donate your used technology, click here.

If you're interested in buying discounted computers or internet service for your family, click here. If you're a nonprofit, click here.

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Coronavirus in Wisconsin

Confirmed cases: 1,268 (as of Monday afternoon)

Deaths: 20

Negative tests: 15,856

More information: COVID-19 on the Wisconsin DHS website

Hotline: Call (414) 286-6800 (M-F 8:00 a.m.-4:45 p.m.)

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