DANEnet pushing for more connectivity, tech education

DANEnet, a nonprofit based in Madison, is bringing more web connectivity and tech education to Dane County.

“I’m hoping people will sort of understand digital equity as an important issue,” said Alyssa Kenney, executive director and accountant for DANEnet, which has been around since 1995. “Sometimes it gets forgotten when we think about housing, we think about food, we forget about asking about connectivity. And it’s critical; it connects to everything.”

Kenney spoke Wednesday at a Madison meeting of 1 Million Cups, an entrepreneurial group with chapters across the country. She pointed out that despite a high level of connectivity in Madison, there are also many who lack at-home access to the internet — 14,000 households in Dane County alone, she says.

And one in three U.S. adults report needing additional digital literacy skills, Kenney says.

“They might have a computer, they might have home connectivity, but they feel like they can’t quite use it; they don’t know what’s real, they don’t know what’s an ad, they don’t know what’s spam,” she said.

The nonprofit is trying to bring low-cost tech education to Dane County residents through specialty events. Examples: coder dojos and maker clubs — “that would be a time where a kid might solder, or learn some additional coding… and we only do them in places where kids wouldn’t be able to afford a program.”

These events are held at community centers, Boys & Girls Clubs and other easily accessible spots.

DANEnet also runs the IT departments for area nonprofits, serving about 160 in the county. The nonprofit employs 10 technicians “helping with anything from building out wireless networks, to reconnecting their printer, to actually wiring their building or converting them to VoIP.”

Its latest effort, Everyone On Madison, has been going for about nine months, and aims to provide affordable internet access and computers to low-income households. Those who don’t have easy access to these things miss out on $3,000 annually, Kenney says.

“So if you have internet access, the price for your goods is cheaper, the time you save enrolling your kid in school is less, the amount of late fees… all those things are less,” she said.

She also pointed out that for many jobs nowadays, the application process is exclusively done over the web.

“If you don’t have online access at home, it hurts your homework completion, your health, your banking,” she said.

Everyone On Madison has so far connected 420 people, distributed 158 computers and educated 183 adults at its digital literacy classes. And the program aims to connect 1,000 low-income households to the web by the end of 2017.

The nonprofit has many partners for Everyone On Madison, including American Family Insurance, Old National Bank, Cascade Asset Management, CUNA Mutual Group, ResTech Services, Kennedy Heights Community Center, Madison Community Foundation and more.

“We have tons of connectivity here; we have [fiber-optics] all over the city, we have multiple providers,” she said. “Digital equity is a social justice problem, but Madison is in this really unique place to solve this problem.”

–By Alex Moe