Mayor Scott Announces $35 Million Investment to Kickstart Efforts to Close the Digital Divide
Tuesday Nov 30th, 2021
BALTIMORE, MD (Tuesday, November 30, 2021) - Today, Mayor Brandon M. Scott is announcing Baltimore’s latest investment with American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars: $35 million focused on the administration’s efforts to close the digital divide. Following his early commitment to address digital disparity, the Mayor has continued to champion efforts to close Baltimore’s digital and broadband divide, with nearly 100,000 city households facing barriers to internet access at home — exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The first $6 million of those dollars will be used to dramatically expand public internet access, expanding City fiber to the remaining 23 recreation centers not already on the City's network, and bringing 100 secure wi-fi hotspots to West Baltimore neighborhoods.
Baltimore is using funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to provide relief to the communities and residents hit hardest by the public health emergency. The Mayor’s Office of Broadband and Digital Equity will receive $35 million to kickstart Baltimore’s efforts to help close the digital divide. By treating broadband as essential public infrastructure, Baltimore will take an active stance to expand coverage and accessibility across the city.
“The COVID-19 pandemic showed us that internet access is critical, basic public infrastructure. From our students to our older adults, Baltimoreans struggled to learn virtually, work from home, and access needed telemedicine on unreliable, slow connections and limited access to broadband,” said Mayor Brandon M. Scott. “We will not wait — today’s $35 million investment with American Rescue Plan dollars is about taking an active role and kickstarting our efforts to not just bridge the divide, but close it once and for all, with a strong focus on our residents and neighborhoods lacking access. This is just the beginning.”
Mayor Scott’s announcement is groundbreaking for a major American city to take a bold and proactive step to treat broadband access in the same way as water and roads — as shared public infrastructure that is managed and maintained for the benefit of all residents. Additionally, Baltimore’s approach will be implemented through an equity lens, understanding that the digital divide is a consequence of underinvestment in historically marginalized neighborhoods.
“Internet access has become a basic necessity of everyday life, but the digital divide prevents many Baltimoreans from taking full advantage of the opportunities that our modern economy offers,” said Jason Hardebeck, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Broadband and Digital Equity. “Today’s announcement is a down payment on our commitment to invest in an expansion of Baltimore’s digital infrastructure, while ensuring that our most disconnected neighborhoods are served first and foremost.”
The Mayor outlined the first $6 million for digital equity outside of the James McHenry Recreation Center in West Baltimore. This first round of funding will allow the City of Baltimore to:
- Expand City fiber to the remaining 23 Baltimore recreation centers not already on the City’s network, bringing secure, public internet access to residents inside and outside of these buildings;
- Install at least 100 secure, free public wi-fi hotspots across ten West Baltimore neighborhoods, including Mondawmin, Reservoir Hill, Upton, Sandtown-Winchester, Penn North, Druid Heights, Madison Park, Coppin Heights, Easterwood, and Bolton Hill;
- Hire a Digital Equity Coordinator and staff with expertise in wi-fi deployment, fiber engineering, operations, and tech support.
“Having internet access should not be contingent on what neighborhood you work, reside or frequent in Baltimore City,” said Shamiah Kerney, Baltimore’s Chief Recovery Officer and Director of the Mayor’s Office of Recovery Programs. “The American Recovery Plan Act will provide initial funding to make progress on closing the digital divide and bring the city closer to making that goal a reality.”
“Internet access is a necessity, not an amenity. We have witnessed this across our recreation system as residents often depend on the use of our wi-fi services. This investment is what we need to close the digital divide within our communities by providing faster, more secure internet access," said Reginald Moore, Executive Director of Baltimore City Recreation and Parks.
Today’s announcement coincides with a commitment by the Mayor to close the digital divide, once and for all, by 2030. The City’s approach will focus on eliminating the root cause of broadband inequality by building open-access fiber infrastructure all across the city. The public is invited to review, provide input, and join in on the efforts described in the City of Baltimore’s Digital Equity Framework, which is now available at bde.baltimorecity.gov.
Details about the remainder of the $35 million investment to close the digital divide will be shared in early 2022.
About the Mayor’s Office of Recovery Programs
The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) provided $641 million to the City of Baltimore in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency and its negative economic impacts. Mayor Brandon M. Scott has established the Mayor’s Office of Recovery Programs to transparently and effectively administer this funding on behalf of the City.
The Mayor’s Office of Recovery Programs continues to collect information from their public feedback form on their website. For additional information on the Mayor’s past investments in public health, violence prevention, putting Baltimore back to work, and supporting an equitable economic recovery from COVID-19, visit the Mayor’s Office of Recovery Programs website at arp.baltimorecity.gov. This page is updated frequently with the latest ARPA-related information.