Technical.ly Baltimore

Join us for Baltimore Innovation Week, Sept. 12 - 20, 2014

Access

Nov. 14, 2013 12:00 pm

How many Baltimore residents don’t have home Internet? [VIDEO]

"You have to have broadband access" to have a vital city, said the mayor in a Washington Post interview.

The four phases of Baltimore city's fiber-ring overbuild. Map courtesy of the City of Baltimore.

Update 11/14/13 1:40 p.m.: Baltimore's campaign for Google Fiber was in 2010, not 2011 as was originally posted. We've made the correction below.

Digital equity appears to be a priority for the mayor.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake made an appearance on Washington Post TV to extol the virtues of broadband access and digital equity.

“You have to have broadband access,” Rawlings-Blake said, in order to have a vital city. But the mayor also said between 20 and 40 percent of Baltimore’s roughly 620,000 residents don’t have access to the Internet in their homes.

Watch the interview with Rawlings-Blake:

As Technical.ly Baltimore has reported, the city is now exploring ways to increase broadband access to parts of Baltimore without any. A chief tenet of the overbuild of its 54-mile fiber ring is digital “equity,” as city CTO Chris Tonjes said in September.

And there was much effort expended to lure Google fiber’s project here, as any Baltimorean around in 2010 remembers.

The reason for desiring faster Internet service, as Rawlings-Blake said in the Post interview: “You can’t grow jobs with slow Internet.”

Of course, some of the reason for the sub-par broadband service Baltimore currently has is due to the city’s existing contract with Comcast. It’s in the interest of big telecommunications companies (and their political acolytes) to prevent municipalities from establishing their own broadband networks — the City of Baltimore owns its conduit — which would create competition to drive down prices and, potentially, provide better service.

That might be a route Baltimore takes in the future. In August the city hired Magellan Advisors to study the risks and benefits of expanding Baltimore’s broadband capabilities.

In the interim, the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology has tried to increase Internet access in smaller ways, by providing free WiFi outside Penn Station and in Baltimore’s six historic public markets.

-30-
Andrew Zaleski

Andrew Zaleski is a freelance journalist in Philadelphia and the former lead reporter for Technical.ly Baltimore. Before moving to Philadelphia in June 2014, he was a contributing writer to Baltimore City Paper and a Tech Check commentator for WYPR 88.1 FM, Baltimore city’s National Public Radio affiliate. He has written for The Atlantic, Outside, Richmond magazine, Washington City Paper, Baltimore magazine, Baltimore Style magazine, Next City, Grist.org, The Atlantic Cities, and elsewhere.

Profile   /   @ajzaleski   /   Send an email
Advertisement
  • Dave Troy

    Couple of points: first, the Google Fiber campaign was in 2010. Second, while a decent percentage of residents do not have home wired broadband, the data I have suggests that many of those people have smartphones. While that’s qualitatively different from home wired broadband, it is still broadband and enables participation in social networks and some basic content creation capability. We need to be cognizant of these facts when we talk about what we’d like to see going forward.

    The old notion of the “digital divide” is no longer valid. The new divides are racial, socioeconomic, and between creators and consumers. But almost everybody is connected.

    • Andrew Zaleski

      D’oh. Good catch, @dave_troy:disqus.

      That smartphone data you have comes from your mapping work, right? We glanced at the point you’re making with this piece in February that collected some of the Pew Research numbers on smartphone adoption: http://technical.ly/baltimore/2013/02/20/digital-divide-hispanic-black-americans-lead-the-way-in-social-media-smartphone-adoption-report/

      I suppose I just wonder what the limitations are — if there are any substantive ones — in depending too heavily on smartphone adoption. For instance, on your point about creators and consumers: I’d argue that smartphone users are primarily consumers. To produce, don’t we require full-size keyboards? (An admittedly basic assertion on my part.)

      • Dave Troy

        Yes, the Pew report and my own mapping work suggest very high penetration of smartphones, specifically iOS devices (mostly iPhones), amongst minority communities.

        While becoming a full-fledged “creator” – one that codes, writes, makes music, publishes photo essays, or whatever that might mean – may require a more traditional laptop or desktop machine, tablets and phones are becoming increasingly useful. You can do a heck of a lot with a tablet and LTE – arguably as much as with a PC if you were so motivated and had the right software. The free software with the iPad (iWork and iLife) is now quite impressive and useful.

        My only point here is that we need to be conscientious about meeting people where they are, and that is constantly changing. The situation in 2010 is very different from what it is today, and proscriptive solutions from 2010 should be updated for 2013 accordingly. Maybe focusing on wired broadband is the most important priority, maybe it’s not, but I’m not sure we have a good assessment of the current reality, which seems to be changing faster than anyone realizes.