Photo by Alejandro Escamilla/Wikimedia Commons.

Broadband access is about to get broader in Maryland, thanks to a $92 million award from Connect Maryland Network Infrastructure Grant Program to expand high-speed internet access across the state.

Gov. Wes Moore said the funds will bring access to about 14,500 households and businesses through Connect Maryland, which aims to close the digital divide.

“Internet access is essential for Marylanders to have a pathway to receive critical information, be involved with their communities and participate in the local economy,” Moore said. “These awards help ensure that the infrastructure exists to make Maryland more equitable.”

Connect Maryland made 35 awards to internet service providers and local jurisdictions to help connect remote communities that don’t have easy access to internet, like households in the mountains of western Washington County, to areas in more densely populated areas in Maryland, like Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.

The Office of Statewide Broadband is part of the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). State officials said its mission is to “ensure that every Marylander has access to broadband services, regardless of their ZIP code.” The state hopes to partner with “private sector and local jurisdictions to reduce, and eventually eliminate, the number of communities and residents being underserved by the current internet infrastructure.​​”

State officials say the Office of Statewide Broadband has invested more than $270 million into such programs and infrastructure since its creation in 2017, and that approximately 52,000 households and businesses have benefited.

“Broadband is the utility that will determine economic outcomes in much the same way water and sewer systems have been for the past 150 years,” said Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development Secretary Jake Day. “Full participation in the digital economy is essential for resolving inequities for countless Marylanders and the Office of Statewide Broadband is committed to closing the digital divide.”

The COVID-19 pandemic shone a brighter spotlight on the existing inequities of internet access nationwide. Homeroom, the U.S. Department of Education’s official blog, states that “[d]ata clearly show the lack of these essential technologies impact communities of color and low-income communities to a disproportionate extent.”

According to Internet for All, the website set up by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, 98% of Maryland’s population lives where high-speed internet is available, but 6% of state households don’t have access to a device, and 9% of households don’t have access to the internet or a device.

The federal government’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) helps families who can’t afford high-speed internet pay for those services, with nearly 40% of all Americans qualifying for free high-speed internet through this program.

Maryland Emergency Broadband Benefit (MEBB) offers additional assistance, even if a household is enrolled in the ACP. According to the DHCD, consumers should speak directly to their internet service providers for information on participation in the MEBB program.

You can see the full list of awards announced by Moore here.

To learn more about Maryland’s Office of Statewide Broadband, click here.