Maryland to Receive Nearly $268 Million in Federal Broadband Access Money – Maryland Matters

Maryland Governor Wes Moore delivers a speech July 18 at the Michael E. Busch Annapolis Library. Photo by William J. Ford.

Earlier this year, Don Graves visited Coppin State University to award a nearly $4 million grant to the school to help provide Internet access to West Baltimore residents.

Graves, the U.S. assistant secretary of commerce, returned to Maryland on Tuesday to announce that the state will receive about $268 million to help bridge the digital divide. He said more than 44,000 locations in the state have limited or no broadband access.

Maryland is receiving an investment to ensure everyone in the state has access, he told the Michael E. Busch Annapolis Library. Internet access is not a luxury today. It’s an absolute necessity.

Graves was joined by state and county officials including Governor Wes Moore (D), Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman (D), and Jake Day, secretary of the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

Moore said the state will lead the expansion of Internet access in three phases: evaluate the state’s infrastructure to provide broadband access, make Internet services affordable for Marylanders, and educate them about using the Internet and what it can provide.

Internet access means students in West Baltimore or Wicomico [County] know they were willing to invest in their education, the governor said. The future of our society depends on it.

Officials also highlighted the $14 billion Affordable Connectivity Program that is part of President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law in November 2021. The program was established after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the nation in March 2020 and forced millions of Americans to stay home. The pandemic made it clear that millions of people had limited or no access to modern technology.

The program, administered by the Federal Commerce Commission, offers up to $30 in monthly discounts for families to receive high-speed Internet service and up to $75 in monthly discounts for those living on tribal lands. Eligible can also receive up to $100 off a laptop, tablet, or desktop computer through participating Internet Service Providers.

Some of those eligible include families with incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line, families with a family member who received a Pell grant to attend college during the current award year, and families receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

A flyer on the Affordable Connectivity Program for eligible Maryland households. Photo by William J. Ford.

Maryland residents who enroll in the program could be eligible for another discount of up to $15 a month on Internet access. That money comes from the State Broadband Office.

Evan Marwell, CEO of the national nonprofit EducationSuperHighway, which works with state and local officials on the Affordable Connectivity Program, said Tuesday that Maryland remains the only state in the nation to provide an additional discount.

The San Francisco-based non-profit supports the expansion of broadband access in underserved communities. According to a report released in October, nearly 52 million households nationwide are eligible for the connectivity program, but only 25 million are enrolled because others are unaware of the program’s existence.

On Tuesday, Marwell said that about 28 percent of the 780,000 eligible families in Maryland are enrolled in the program.

We know we can do better, he said. That’s partly why we’re here to spread the word.

AARP Maryland has joined the effort to spread the word about the program to its more than 850,000 members ages 50 and older.

The AARP fought for the Affordable Connectivity Program because too many Americans lack access to the affordable high-speed Internet they need to work, attend school, see the doctor and avoid isolation, AARP state director Hank Greenberg said in a statement. The end of many COVID-era relief programs is taking a toll on many Maryland families.

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