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A task force will aim to fix Wisconsin’s digital divide made worse by the pandemic

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – Governor Evers issued an executive order this week to establish a Task Force on Broadband Access, an issue that was discussed before the pandemic but made only worse by the effects of the coronavirus.

Wisconsin ranks 30th in the country in broadband access according to a report by BroadbandNow. It affects the business and education sectors especially and it’s not limited to rural parts of the state.

When the pandemic forced schools to close and shift to remote learning, the digital divide for some was made even worse.

“Folks were parked in the parking lot of libraries, using their phones to try and write essays,” Carmen Schools Director of Teaching and Learning Joe Baker said. While Baker admired the efforts of students and parents to overcome obstacles of poor internet access, he noted that it is no environment for any student to learn.

“Having broadband internet access is key,” Baker said. “It is the way to make sure we have equitable access to high quality education in this pandemic.”

The issue affects teachers’ planning but most importantly students’ experience with education.

“Every morning I take math classes and there’s been some difficulty with the internet, like when the teacher’s talking the computer freezes or something,” Perla Ornelas Cruz, a ninth grader at Carmen School told CBS 58 in a phone interview. “I feel like it’s way more harder to communicate online, it’s more better to see a teacher face to face.”

These issues plague educators, students and business owners across the state.

The Evers administration hopes the task force will help underserved areas.

“My hope is the task force will bring us one more step closer to opportunity for every child for every adult for every family in this state,” Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes told CBS 58.

The task force will hold listening sessions in the coming months where Wisconsin residents can share input about expanding broadband access.

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