Nearly 1,000 households in Milwaukee’s Westlawn Gardens community, on the city’s northwest side, will soon have access to high-speed internet for $15 a month.
The nonprofit PCs for People, with support from Microsoft Corp. and the city’s Housing Authority, says it’s providing the service for free if a resident uses their federal Affordable Connectivity Program benefit.
The new service, made possible by a recently installed 4G LTE wireless tower, won’t require a contract or credit check and will include a modem at no additional cost, according to PCs for People.
Estimates vary, but it’s widely accepted that millions of city dwellers are at risk of falling behind in education, employment and health care — just like their rural counterparts — because they lack adequate home internet access.
In cities, more often the digital divide is about the monthly cost of internet access than the lack of a service provider.
Earlier, the Housing Authority said Charter Spectrum refused to install internet service at Westlawn Gardens unless it was given exclusive rights to all of the homes.
“We told them we wouldn’t do that because it’s always better when you have multiple service providers. It gives residents a choice of different speeds and price points,” said Willie Hines, the agency’s associate director and former Milwaukee Common Council president.
“Competition generally brings down prices.”
AT&T agreed to provide broadband at Westlawn Gardens with fiber-optic-cable direct to each residence. Charter Spectrum, in response to Journal Sentinel questions, said the dispute was a misunderstanding about competitors using their wires.
PCs for People and Microsoft said they will provide a complimentary Microsoft Go2 computer to the first 100 residents registered in the pilot phase of the new service. All of the residents could purchase low-cost laptops or desktops through the Affordable Connectivity benefit, according to PCs for People.
Nearly 1,000 housing units are planned for the housing complex with 773 completed or under construction. The new internet service will be available to all of the homes as well as the neighborhood’s playgrounds and garden. It was supported by the Housing Authority.
“By connecting more residents of Milwaukee, affordable, high-speed internet can add to our economy and to educational achievement. It is an effort to empower everyone, and I appreciate all the support this project has received,” Mayor Cavalier Johnson said in a statement.
PCs for People has partnered with Microsoft to provide low-cost refurbished computers and digital literacy training, in addition to internet service, in the Lindsay Heights neighborhood.
The goal is to reach about 1,700 people through a mesh network of transmitters mounted on public buildings.
“Our world is becoming more digital every day, but people without broadband and a device to use it are effectively cut off from opportunity,” said Vickie Robinson, general manager of Microsoft’s Airband Initiative, and a Milwaukee native.