RACINE COUNTY — While some of us use the internet without a second thought, there are hundreds of thousands of people in Wisconsin that do not have access.
A Wisconsin Policy Forum report found in 2018 nearly 370,000 people in the state did not have an internet subscription at home.
Racine County, Gateway Technical College, and a group called Higher Expectations for Racine County collectively committed $100,000 to bring internet access to communities with the most need.
"It was a no-brainer to be a part of the solution," said Ron Tatum, Director of Community Outreach at Kingdom Builders Fellowship Center in Racine.
Tatum described bringing internet access to Racine County's most disadvantaged neighborhoods as historic, especially in a time when people rely on it for school, work, and health care.
Since the church joined the initiative, Tatum said kids and families have been showing up to use the internet service and their office has been fielding phone calls on how it works.
"Just to see the families come and utilize the resources that we have because of the internet access in the County of Racine speaks volumes. I think you can see in the pictures the kids are very excited," said Tatum.
"We believe that everyone in Racine County deserves internet access, but for too long many in our county, whether you’re urban or rural, has been without," said County Executive Jonathan Delagrave.
Kingdom Builders Fellowship Center is one of ten community sites in Racine County that have turned into a new internet access point. County officials said each one has a range of about 100 yards.
Other sites include the Raymond Elementary School parking lot, a couple of Racine Police COP houses, and Sturtevant's Village Hall.
The partnership is working with local company e-vergent to provide service.
"We are currently filtering certain web content to make it a safe environment for adults, but most importantly children of our community," said Shuchi Wadhwa, Director of Information Technology for Racine County.
The team said they were strategic in choosing neighborhoods with the greatest concentration of homes without internet access, which often overlapped with the most diverse and poorest areas.
"That perfect storm of being the most socially isolated, while having all these negative social determinants or factors that contribute to long-term adverse health consequences during COVID, was a really powerful case to put internet hotspots within those neighborhoods," said Travis Richardson, Director of Performance and Analytics at the county.
The need for good internet access covers rural and urban communities.
Citing 2018 U.S. Census data, county officials found 12,058 homes in Racine County did not have internet access. To compare, there are 3,805 households without internet in Ozaukee County and 76,729 in Milwaukee County.
"We know there is much much more to be done, but we do feel like this is a big first step. What we want to do is create capacity, try at some point to be able to bridge the digital divide into individual homes," said Delagrave.
The internet service is provided for free and can be accessed through the Digital County Racine Wi-Fi network. You need to create a login.
Racine County is planning for additional community hotspot sites. If you are interested in hosting or funding reach out to Shuchi.firstname.lastname@example.org or call (262) 636-3776.