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Baltimore city council members call on FCC to help in fight to address digital divide

Posted at 9:48 PM, Mar 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-17 16:14:37-04

BALTIMORE — Three Baltimore city council members are calling on the FCC to help in the fight to close the digital divide.

Zeke Cohen, Kristerfer Burnett and Ryan Dorsey, who also received support from 100 elected officials across the country, sent a letter to the FCC asking for more regulation of internet service providers such as Comcast and also an investigation in what’s been called “digital redlining”.

“When we refer to digital redlining, we’re talking about the ways that internet service providers like Comcast intentionally and at times inadvertently leave out entire black, brown and indigenous neighborhoods,” Cohen said.

In the letter, the group is also asking the FCC to consider internet service providers as a utility company in an effort for fair and equitable internet access for families in Baltimore and across the country.

“Reclassifying to Title II would enable them to recommit to net neutrality…it would allow them to eliminate data caps, which have been a very predatory practice,” he said.

The digital divide has been a huge problem in Baltimore, which has only been exacerbated due to the pandemic.

According to an Abell Foundation survey in 2018, more than a third of Baltimore households don’t have access to broadband internet.

But even when families are connected, students like Kimberly Vazquez still have trouble getting into her online class.

“It’s really discouraging to keep studying. Keep putting effort when you have such a struggle to even get to class,” Vazquez said.

Vazquez gets her internet as a part of Comcast’s Internet Essentials package, but it's been unreliable.

The Baltimore City College High School senior is also an activist with a student led organization that

helped improve the program’s internet speeds after there were complaints the speeds offered in the package were too slow for virtual learning

She said she hopes the FCC can become an “ally” in the battle to close the digital divide.

“I’m really tired of having these band-aid solutions, before you know it you are in the same situation as before,” she said. “We need something concrete.”

Cohen said he requested to meet with the FCC to discuss some of the issues and possible solutions mentioned in the letter.

He’s aiming to have a meeting scheduled soon.