The United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County is seeking RFPs to move forward with a broadband feasibility study this year.
The study will be focused on how to provide alternative broadband solutions to priority areas and provide a set of potential solutions and recommendations for possible private and public sector collaborations.
David Berka, project manager of data, evaluation and resource equity at United Way, said the study is a core part of United Way’s Techquity Initiative, which aims to ensure digital equity and inclusion for all.
Techquity, launched in 2020, has a four-part strategy aimed at ensuring digital equity across Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington counties. That strategy includes access to devices, access to broadband, advocacy for digital equity, and promoting digital skills and literacy. Some of the areas that have the most problems with access to broadband are in Milwaukee County. According to data from the 2019 US Census Bureau, at least 25% of Milwaukee residents do not have broadband access in their home.
“This work around broadband really comes out of one of the main strategies within Techquity. Once we had the focus of expanding broadband access to all of these areas, we started asking the question of what expanding broadband access really looks like,” Berka said.
For most of 2021, United Way leaders were focused on having as many conversations with community leaders and stakeholders as possible to get an answer to this question.
“Broadband access is going to be something that every single county in the country is going to have to think about,” Berka said. “It’s a similar problem to people having electricity and running water and heat in their homes. If people don’t have those things, it’s going to pose real problems for them.”
United Way also leads the Milwaukee Broadband Partnership, convening members of greater Milwaukee’s governmental, commercial, health care, civic, and philanthropic sectors. Together, the partnership is building a multi-modal approach to align new and existing internet providers into a comprehensive network focused on equity, accessibility, and affordability for metro Milwaukee residents.
RFPs for the feasibility study are due back to the United Way by June 30. After that, Berka said his team will likely take a few weeks to consider proposals. The process of completing the feasibility study could take up to five or six months. More information on United Way’s RFP can be found online.