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Lack of Reliable High-Speed Internet Affects Jobs and Schooling in Communities Across State

Hundreds of thousands of Maryland households, from Baltimore City to rural communities, lack regular subscriptions to broadband internet service, making it difficult for those households to take part in the digital economy, attend virtual school or take advantage of online resources, a new report finds.
The report was commissioned by the Community Development Network of Maryland and funded by the Abell Foundation to gauge the state’s digital disparities at a time when access to the internet has become far more critical amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.The report’s author is John B. Horrigan, Ph.D. During the Obama Administration, Horrigan was part the leadership team at the Federal Communications Commission for the development of the National Broadband Plan.

The pandemic has starkly underscored the disadvantages of being without the internet. The report documents that hundreds of thousands of households in Maryland do not have a foundational tool for internet connectivity – a wireline high-speed internet subscription for their home.

Such internet service plans have the speed and data allotments that allow people to log on for school, work from home, or have a telehealth session – all without worrying whether they will hit a monthly limit on the amount of data they can consume.

“When logging onto the internet is the only way to go to school or have a medical consultation, internet access becomes vital,” the report finds. “Wireline and computer access at home are important particularly during a pandemic.”

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The report, “Disconnected in Maryland,” outlines the size of this gap and offers recommendations on how to solve it. In Maryland, the report found the following data based on an analysis of the 2019 American Community Survey:

  • 520,000 households do not have a home wireline broadband subscription; that is nearly one in four (23%) homes.
    Two-thirds – or 342,000 households – of those who are disconnected live in metro counties or Baltimore City.
  • 206,000 African American households do not have a wireline broadband connection. This means 40% of the disconnected in Maryland are African American.
  • 178,000 households in rural Maryland do not have wireline broadband subscriptions at home.
  • Some 108,000 Maryland households with children under the age of 18 do not have wireline internet service at home. These households are disproportionately poor, African American and Hispanic.

“Today more than ever, as COVID keeps many of us at home, it is critical for people to have reliable, affordable access to the internet, whether it’s to look for a job, attend Zoom meetings for work or attend virtual schools,” said Claudia Wilson Randall, executive director of the Community Development Network of Maryland.

“But far too many Marylanders can’t afford or don’t have access to reliable internet subscriptions – in all areas of the state. Without new approaches, these families – kids and parents – will continue to suffer economically and in school because of their lack of digital access.”

Internet access means little unless a household has a computing device to log on, and the report highlighted substantial gaps in computer ownership in Maryland.

  • 391,000 Maryland homes do not have either a desktop or laptop computer, or nearly one in five (18%) homes.
  • Nearly 290,000 Maryland households lack either a desktop, laptop or tablet computer (or 13% of all homes).
  • As with wireline broadband subscriptions, this is found more often in urban and metro areas and among African American households.

“In the spring we released an Abell report on Baltimore’s digital divide that documented the scope of Baltimoreans’ challenges connecting to the internet,” said Abell Foundation President Robert C. Embry, Jr. “Partnering with the Community Development Network of Maryland and Dr. Horrigan on this report allows us to demonstrate that the disconnection crisis is echoed by communities across the state and felt most acutely here in Baltimore City. We’re proud to support efforts that promote digital inclusion for all Marylanders.”

The report outlines several recommendations for closing this digital disparity, including:

  • The state should embark on a statewide broadband planning process to address all dimensions of the problem – digital inclusion and network deployment.
  • Maryland should consider investments in digital inclusion, perhaps in partnership with philanthropic organizations. The state should also consider creating an Office of Digital Inclusion to manage initiatives throughout the state.
  • Stakeholders should promote awareness of programs to make internet access more affordable and explore ways to make it easier to sign up – for example, partnering with school districts or housing authorities.
  • Improve the pipeline of affordable computing devices to help get computers to low-income households. Stakeholders should explore ways to expand current programs to all parts of the state.

The General Assembly will be considering legislation designed to improve access to broadband internet. One measure (SB 66 and HB 97) would establish a statewide Office of Digital Inclusion in the state Department of Housing and Community Development to lead a wide range of efforts to expand access to the internet in all areas of the state.

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Scott E