In response to the increased need for access to high-speed internet as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski yesterday announced steps to expand access across the County.
“With our children learning remotely, many people working from home, and critical services like medical appointments moving online, we have been reminded of our responsibility to ensure that every resident has access to affordable high-speed internet service,” Olszewski said. “Our team has taken a number of important steps to ensure equitable access so that our residents don’t fall behind and we will continue to innovate in order to further expand service across our County.”
Six Months of Free Internet Access for Low-Income Residents
Many residents may have internet service available where they live, but struggle to afford the monthly cost of service. Comcast’s Internet Essentials program currently offers a router and high-speed access to qualifying low-income households for $9.95 per month.
To help support families impacted by the pandemic, Baltimore County, through CARES Act funding, has sponsored six months of Internet Essentials service to all existing program participants across the county — nearly 11,000 households. These households are now receiving service at no-cost for six months.
Increasing Equitable Public Wi-Fi Access
In addition, the County has expanded public Wi-Fi availability in locations around the County. All 19 branches of the Baltimore County Public Library and all 28 Recreation and Parks locations now have high-speed external public Wi-Fi.
Individuals can now access Wi-Fi by individuals outside of these facilities in addition to inside. Residents can find an interactive County map of Wi-Fi locations located here.
The County has also used CARES funding to support Baltimore County Public Library’s Wi-Fi hotspot loan program.
Using these funds, BCPL has ordered 300 additional hotspot devices and over 200 Chromebooks to supplement existing loaner devices, which are available for checkout by adults and can be requested at the branch most convenient to them. Residents interested in requesting a device can learn more here.
MACo 2021 Legislative Initiative: Build Out Broadband Across Maryland
Weaknesses in current broadband internet service occur in every jurisdiction, due to both geography and demography – too many Marylanders have been left on the wrong side of the “digital divide.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of broadband connectivity across the state. Students have transitioned to online learning, many professionals have shifted to telework, and applying for unemployment or small business assistance programs often requires access to the internet. Affordable high-speed internet is an essential component of a county’s economic development, while lack of reliable broadband is a major barrier to socioeconomic opportunity, health, education, and quality of life.
MACo advocates for prioritizing funding to build out broadband access in Maryland, enhancing incentives and orchestrating opportunities for broadband deployment, and leveraging existing resources and infrastructure for broader use.
Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more information.