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Call to expand free wifi in Baltimore City

Posted at 9:54 PM, Jul 20, 2020

BALTIMORE — For rising senior Kimberly Vasquez, the switch to virtual learning meant deciding to give up class time for her younger siblings to use the bandwidth they had available.

“Every morning my family had to decide who had priority to use the internet,” Vasquez said. “My parents needed to work and provide for our family, for me and my sisters who needed to pass our classes. We even had scheduled times, I would do my work more towards the afternoon while my sisters did their work more in the morning.”

A study of over 20,000 households in Baltimore City found that around half of the black and Latinx families don’t have access to reliable internet.

“We cannot allow this to be a situation where 1 in every 2 black and Latinx students are disconnected from their educational experience,” said Franca Muller-Paz.

Muller-Paz is a teacher at Baltimore City College.

She knows many students use Comcast's free Internet Essentials Program which gives 60 free days to new customers.

The problem is that program caps at 3 megabytes per second, which directly impacts the speed of your internet.

Classrooms typically have at least 15 students on a virtual conference which requires around 15 mb.

“When Comcast denies that this is a problem or they say that with a 3 MB upload speed you can do 3 zoom calls it’s just blatantly false.”

On Monday night, Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Cohen got unanimous support for a resolution that he, Vazquez, Muller-Paz and other students and educators put together.

It calls on Comcast to improve the speed of the internet essentials program, to extend the free service to 60 days from the first day of school and, to open all public hot spots.

“During the pandemic when so many are suffering and making great sacrifices Comcast can afford to do more,” Cohen said. “Our children can not afford to wait.”

Cohen teamed up with council members from Philadelphia and Detroit who introduced the same resolution for their cities.

Comcast says it will extend its free service through the end of the year and issued the following statement:

"For nearly a decade, there has been no company more committed to bridging the digital divide in Baltimore, and across the nation, than Comcast. Since its inception in 2011, our Internet Essentials program, which is the nation's largest of its kind, has connected more than 2 million low-income households nationally to the internet, serving approximately 8 million people including 104,000 in Baltimore. To confront the COVID-19 epidemic, we proactively offered 60 days of free service to any new customers, waived all back due debt, and opened thousands of Wi-Fi hotspots in outdoor and small business locations across the City – and will continue to do so through the end of the year. However, solving a problem as vast and complex as the digital divide requires collaboration across the City – with the school district, elected officials, nonprofit community partners, and other private-sector companies – so everyone is part of the solution.”

The first day of school is September 8.