Diversity & Inclusion
Baltimore / Digital access / Internet

Report: The digital divide is a state issue in Maryland

The Abell Foundation report says Maryland needs to increase digital inclusion efforts, and offers recommendations for closing the digital divide.

Living in a digital world. Photo by Backdoor Survival

The Abell Foundation has released a new report Thursday on the digital divide in Maryland, examining data on access to home internet service and devices like desktops and laptops. It also includes recommendations on how to bridge the gap.

The report reiterates what previous reports have said, in that the digital divide cuts along the lines of race and class. In the state, African American households account for 40% of all disconnected households, and those below Maryland’s median income of $84,805 account for 75% of those without home internet service or a laptop, desktop or tablet, the report states.

Authored by John B. Horrigan, a senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute, and titled “Disconnected in Maryland: Statewide Data Show the Racial and Economic Underpinnings of the Digital Divide,” the report analyzed 2019 American Community Survey data. It was commissioned by the Community Development Network of Maryland, and funded by an Abell Foundation grant.

The report highlighted the following:

  • 520,000 Maryland households, or about one in four, do not have a home wireline broadband subscription
  • 391,000 Maryland homes, or about one in five, do not have either a desktop or laptop computer
  • Some 108,000 Maryland households with children under the age of 18 do not have wireline internet
    service at home. These households suffering from the “homework gap” are disproportionately
    poor, African American, and Hispanic.

The digital divide has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as school and work have shifted online for many people. This report arrives as this year’s session of the Maryland General Assembly is opening in Annapolis, and a Baltimore coalition focused on digital equity is pushing legislators for policy responses.

The report recommends improving on the pipeline of computers to low-income households, state government focus on digital inclusion, increasing partnerships with community-level organizations working on expanding connectivity, and advocating for federal action like direct internet subsidies and reform of the FCC’s Lifeline program to bride these gaps in affordability of internet devices and service.

A succinct breakdown of those recommendations from the report were:

  • Statewide broadband planning should address all dimensions of the problem from digital inclusion to network deployment
  • Partnerships for digital inclusion with nonprofits and the creation of a Digital inclusion office
  • Increase public awareness of affordability programs like Comcast’s Internet Essentials package
  • Improve the pipeline of computing devices by expanding and sustaining initiatives by orgs like Baltimore’s DigiBmore and PCs for People

For most, the reason for not having in home internet is affordability, according to the report. Fifty percent of non-broadband users cited struggles with the monthly service fee as the reason for lack of an in-home internet provider. The report recommends addressing the affordability for low-income households as something that’ll have a larger impact throughout the state of Maryland than addressing network issues.

As the saying goes, clean water doesn’t matter if no one can afford to drink it.

Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.

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