Baltimore’s first-ever director of broadband and digital equity has stepped down, and the city will move his office under the purview of the Baltimore City Office of Information and Technology (BCIT), Mayor Brandon Scott’s office announced Thursday.
Jason Hardebeck, who was named the city’s first broadband and digital equity director in March 2021, has left the position, effective immediately, city officials said.
Kenya Asli, director of strategic initiatives with BCIT, will serve as interim director while the city searches for a permanent director.
According to a press release sent by the Mayor’s office, the daily functions of the Office of Broadband and Digital Equity will be transitioned to the BCIT. The Scott Administration hopes to leverage BCIT’s tech experience; currently, BCIT operates over 300 miles of fiber and serves more than 200 city government locations.
“We are confident that our significant progress will continue through this transition,” Scott in a statement. “Kenya has played a key role in the city’s efforts to close the digital divide that has served as a barrier to economic mobility, wellbeing, and empowerment in our communities for far too long.”
Under BCIT, the Office of Broadband and Digital Equity will continue to work towards the digital equity framework that Hardebeck helped to establish. Instituted in 2021, the framework is a series of goals meant to close Baltimore’s digital divide by 2030.
In 2018, the American Community Survey reported that 40% of households in Baltimore City did not have a wireline internet service, like cable, fiber, or a digital subscriber line service. The majority of those households were found to be low income.
Baltimore residents without access to an internet connection were directly impacted as healthcare, education, and job interviews moved online due to the pandemic.
To aid impacted households, the mayor’s office announced in late 2021 that it would be allocating $35 million in American Rescue Act funds to close the digital divide.
In a continued effort to decrease digital barriers, BCIT will work with the Housing Authority of Baltimore City and Baltimore Recreation and Parks to bring broadband internet to community centers and public housing throughout the city.
“The decision to restructure BDE under the purview of BCIT is a logical next step as the City continues to place a laser focus on digital equity and will allow us to streamline the City’s efforts around information and technology access into a single agency. We are committed to aligning our technology resources for better outcomes for the City and the people of Baltimore,” said City Administrator Chris Shorter in a statement.