UMB, Comcast partner to provide internet access to West Baltimore families

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Photo by Mike Mozart/Flickr

The University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) has partnered with Comcast to provide one year of internet service to families in West Baltimore.

UMB will cover the cost of 12 months of high-speed internet for up to 1,000 families from 14 partner schools in West Baltimore.

The partner schools include:

  • Booker T. Washington Middle School
  • Charles Carroll Barrister
  • Eutaw-Marshburn Elementary School
  • Excel Academy at Francis M. Wood High School
  • Franklin Square Elementary/Middle School
  • Furman Templeton Preparatory Academy
  • George Washington Elementary School
  • Harlem Park Elementary/Middle School
  • Historic Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Elementary School
  • James McHenry Elementary/Middle School
  • Renaissance Academy
  • Southwest Baltimore Charter School
  • Steuart Hill Academic Academy
  • Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy

Comcast is also offering two free months of its Internet Essentials service, which normally provides internet to low-income households at a rate of $9.95 per month. With the UMB partnership, West Baltimore families that have not previously signed up for the Internet Essentials program will be able to receive a total of 14 months of free internet service.

In June, the UMB Community COVID Recovery Task Force petitioned UMB President Bruce E. Jarrell to deliver internet service to students and neighbors in West Baltimore. Jarrell approved the funds to provide internet access to up to 1,000 families.

Jane Shaab, UMB’s associate vice president for economic development and co-chair of the UMB Community COVID Recovery Task Force, said it was critical for the university to ensure internet access for community members during the coronavirus pandemic.

“This need was driving all of us from the start because we knew without Internet access many families in our community and their children would be left out,” Shaab said in a statement. “As an educational institution, UMB cares deeply about how people learn and what they learn, so connecting our neighbors with this vital service is a priority.”

Approximately one-third of Baltimore City residents do not have access to broadband internet in their homes, and the coronavirus pandemic has widened the digital divide as students require internet access for virtual learning, UMB officials said in a statement.

“It’s so important that the students have an appropriate level of internet access in their homes not just for their studies, but also to maintain a sense of normalcy,” Peter Murray, UMB vice president and chief information officer, said in a statement.

Robert Jackson, the father of an eight-year-old student at James McHenry Elementary Middle School, said that since receiving internet access through this new partnership he has helped his son stay connected with teachers.

“Before I was using the hotspot on my phone or I was taking [my son] Raquan somewhere else with Wi-Fi to do his schoolwork,” Jackson said in a statement.

Jackson was also able to fill out job applications online and secured a job as a housekeeping supervisor at Future Care.

“It feels great,” he said.

UMB’s community school coordinators have been reaching out directly to families from the 14 partner schools since September.

UMB and Comcast have identified about 600 families in need of internet access, whom they have set up with self-installation kits that allow families to safely set up an internet router without needing a Comcast worker to enter their home. Families are able to call Comcast’s customer service line for the Internet Essentials program for assistance.

“We’re proud to embark on this partnership with UMB to connect so many families in West Baltimore to high-speed Internet,” Misty Allen, vice president of government and regulatory affairs for Comcast’s Beltway region, said in a statement. “For more than a decade, Comcast has been dedicated to bridging the digital divide in Baltimore and across the nation with our Internet Essentials program – which to date has connected millions of low-income families to the Internet.”

In September, Comcast announced that it would be providing free Wi-Fi connection to more than 1,000 community centers nationwide, including locations in Baltimore City, as part of an effort to close the digital divide for low-income families.

Marcus Dieterle


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