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Closing the digital divide in Baltimore

Posted at 6:19 PM, Nov 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-01 06:36:18-05

BALTIMORE — Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott announced a $35 million investment to kickstart efforts to close the digital divide in the city.

The first $6 million of that funding will be used to dramatically expand public internet access, expanding City fiber to the remaining 23 recreation centers not already on the City's network, and bringing 100 secure wi-fi hotspots to West Baltimore neighborhoods.

Baltimore is using funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to provide relief to the communities and residents hit hardest by the public health emergency.

“The COVID-19 pandemic showed us that internet access is critical, basic public infrastructure. From our students to our older adults, Baltimoreans struggled to learn virtually, work from home, and access needed telemedicine on unreliable, slow connections and limited access to broadband,” said Mayor Brandon M. Scott. “We will not wait — today’s $35 million investment with American Rescue Plan dollars is about taking an active role and kickstarting our efforts to not just bridge the divide, but close it once and for all, with a strong focus on our residents and neighborhoods lacking access. This is just the beginning.”

“Internet access has become a basic necessity of everyday life, but the digital divide prevents many Baltimoreans from taking full advantage of the opportunities that our modern economy offers,” said Jason Hardebeck, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Broadband and Digital Equity. “Today’s announcement is a down payment on our commitment to invest in an expansion of Baltimore’s digital infrastructure, while ensuring that our most disconnected neighborhoods are served first and foremost.”

This first round of funding will allow the City of Baltimore to:

  • Expand City fiber to the remaining 23 Baltimore recreation centers
  • Install at least 100 secure, free public wi-fi hotspots across ten West Baltimore neighborhoods, including Mondawmin, Reservoir Hill, Upton, Sandtown-Winchester, Penn North, Druid Heights, Madison Park, Coppin Heights, Easterwood, and Bolton Hill;
  • Hire a Digital Equity Coordinator and staff with expertise in wi-fi deployment, fiber engineering, operations, and tech support.

“Having internet access should not be contingent on what neighborhood you work, reside or frequent in Baltimore City,” said Shamiah Kerney, Baltimore’s Chief Recovery Officer and Director of the Mayor’s Office of Recovery Programs. “The American Recovery Plan Act will provide initial funding to make progress on closing the digital divide and bring the city closer to making that goal a reality.”

“Internet access is a necessity, not an amenity. We have witnessed this across our recreation system as residents often depend on the use of our wi-fi services. This investment is what we need to close the digital divide within our communities by providing faster, more secure internet access," said Reginald Moore, Executive Director of Baltimore City Recreation and Parks.