Coppin State University President Anthony L. Jenkins announces the $3.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce and National Telecommunications and Information Administration on Monday, January 30, 2023. Credit: Coppin State University

State and federal officials gathered at Coppin State University on Monday to announce a $3.9 million broadband program that offers training and equipment to students and neighbors, but no direct internet connections.

The pilot program is expected offer some residents of the Coppin Heights, Mondawmin, and Walbrook communities 2,000 laptops, according to a federal official at the event. It also offers a chance at computer certification for about 20 trainees each year who sign on as digital navigators for the community.

“No routers or wifi, but laptops,” said Kevin Hughes, acting director of the Office of Minority and Broadband Initiatives with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). “The Connecting Minority Communities Program has requirements based on the greatest unmet financial need on the part of the students of the universities that are applying.”

“Programmatically, some of the things that they’re going to be doing with the school and with the community are just phenomenal. For example they are going to be disseminating 2,000 laptops to members of the community.”

The Coppin State program, named ConnectEagle Nation, is made possible through a $3.9 million grant from the larger $268 million federal Connecting Minority Communities Program. The U.S. Commerce Department also announced the granting of over $30 million in additional funding to HBCUs around the country during the Coppin State event.

Digital navigators will be trained by the NPower program in Baltimore, and will be eligible for computer certification.

“We will be leading the training for digital navigators and offering the opportunity for certification in IT and Cyber Security,” said Kendra Parlock, NPower’s vice president of partnership and development. “We will work to put them in tech jobs upon graduation for the program.”

Senator Ben Cardin was bullish on the program.

“If we are really going to be ‘internet for all,’ you’ve got to reach the communities,” he said. “How? The HBCUs. If you can’t get on the internet you are locked out of an enormous amount of opportunity.”

Internet connectivity has long been a challenge in Baltimore. When asked, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves said he was not concerned that the current round of funding would not make high speed internet connections available to communities.

“This is one component of a much larger set of grants,” he said. “Our main program for supporting access to high speed internet – those dollars are going to be flowing later this year as well, so we can make sure that communities that have high speed internet to their homes, to their businesses, to their schools.

“All of these dollars are flowing and will be flowing over the course of this year. We have to build the whole ecosystem that will allow people to have access to the internet, and the tools that they need to be able to use it. I don’t have the specifics of how it’s going to play out in this particular neighborhood, but we’re working with the state.”

Dr. Nicholas Eugene, an associate professor in Coppin’s mathematics department, helped put together Coppin State’s grant application. He said about 21 million Americans nationally lack access to a broadband internet connection. The number of people lacking access to the broader category of high speed internet is about 100 million in the United States, Eugene said.

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