A new grant at the intersection of municipal government and philanthropy aims to enhance Baltimore City residents’ quality of life by providing more widespread internet access and related essential resources.
Mayor Scott, working with the Baltimore City Office of Information and Technology’s (BCIT) Office of Broadband and Digital Equity (BDE), launched this grant — known as the Digital Equity Fund — last week. The initiative aims to narrow the digital divide and increase digital equity through a pool of money that supports community-led digital inclusion plans. The initiative starts with an initial seed of $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money; the Baltimore Civic Fund, an independent nonprofit that backs public-private initiatives like this one, will manage the funds’ distribution. Applications are open until June 2.
The fund aims to address the city’s endemic digital divide, which impacts residents’ quality of life — particularly when it comes to work, education, health care and social interactions. Unfortunately, many Baltimore residents lack the necessary skills and devices required to participate fully in its economy: More than 40 percent lack wireline broadband access at home. Centuries of disinvestment left the most vulnerable denizens, who are overwhelmingly Black and brown, most impacted by this digital divide.
Mayor Scott recognized these issues and their dire impact on Baltimoreans in an announcement emailed to Technical.ly.
“Without question, participation in our society requires access to affordable high-speed internet and devices, as well as the knowledge and skills to use those tools,” he said. “With the Digital Equity Fund, we are investing in community-led efforts to build knowledge and skills and close the digital divide — especially among communities that have experienced historic disinvestment.”
“Through the Digital Equity Fund, we will support the great work already happening in communities and new efforts to address the digital divide,” added BDE Interim Director Kenya Asli in the same announcement. “This is an important contribution to Baltimore’s digital ecosystem and reaffirms the city’s focus on long-term, sustainable solutions benefiting all Baltimore residents.”
To address these gaps, the Digital Equity Fund will provide three types of grants to Baltimore-based 501(c)(3) organizations that work in partnership with communities. Education and outreach grants will provide funding of between $5,000 and $10,000 to community-based activities that raise awareness of the digital divide, support programming to address the digital divide, and build capacity.
Planning grants, which are available for up to $50,000, will support community-building efforts to develop neighborhood digital inclusion plans; recipients will earn funding at two tiers, depending on the planning grant’s scope. Lastly, Implementation grants, which are available for up to $75,000, will help neighborhoods enact digital inclusion plans.
According to the city’s press release, applicants should note how their proposals would tackle the needs of populations most likely to fall on the wrong side of the digital divide. Those groups include people living with disabilities, racial or ethnic minorities, non-English speakers, formerly incarcerated individuals, families with young children and people experiencing homelessness..
Prospective applicants seeking more details, access to the application portal and details about information sessions can find that via the Baltimore Civic Fund’s official website:
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