Counties Support Focus on Broadband, Urge Recognition for Rural Community Needs

MACo Policy Associate Drew Jabin yesterday testified before the House Economic Matters Committee to support both HB 43 Department of Information Technology – Office of Broadband and Joint Committee on Broadband and HB 97 Department of Housing and Community Development – Office of Digital Inclusion – Established (Digital Connectivity Act of 2021). These bills further MACo’s initiative of advancing broadband access in Maryland.

HB 43 would establish the Office of Broadband in the Department of Information Technology as well as the Joint Committee on Broadband in the Maryland General Assembly. HB 97 would establish the Office of Digital Inclusion within the Department of Housing and Community Development with the goal of enabling access to high-quality broadband affordable internet along with the tools to use it for all Marylanders.

From MACo’s testimony on broadband:

Access to affordable, high-speed internet is vital for Maryland residents and the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly illustrated the necessity of being connected. Lack of broadband access continues to hurt Marylanders in their mission to move out of poverty, find jobs, obtain health care and social services, access distance learning, and advocate for community change. Access to broadband also supports a better-informed electorate, a responsive government, and enhanced civic engagement.

Broadband access is a public health issue, and one that is being recognized more often as a social determinant of health. The Abell Foundation’s “Disconnected in Maryland” report shows that more than 500,000 Maryland households do not currently subscribe to wireline broadband services. MACo and county government stand ready to work with state policy makers to bridge the divide and provide residents the access they deserve.

While MACo understands the necessity of establishing an Office of Digital Inclusion that will work across all Maryland jurisdictions to provide support in increasing broadband adoption, we would like to acknowledge the importance of the current Office of Rural Broadband. Maryland’s more rural jurisdictions face special challenges in terms of providing broadband access to remote and hard-to-serve areas and subscription rates in rural areas generally continue to lag behind rates in urban areas. MACo encourages the Committee to keep this in mind when moving forward with any legislation aimed at solving the digital divide in Maryland.

View MACo’s testimony on HB 97.

View MACo’s testimony on HB 43.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2021 legislative session on MACo’s Legislative Tracking Database.