BBJ: Digital divide holding back business in Maryland, leaders say

By Holden Wilen

January 14, 2021

Maryland business leaders said Jan 14 the state faces an impending crisis related to the lack of broadband internet access for many residents and businesses across the state, calling it the “elephant in the room” whose impact has become exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

While a number of equity and social justice issues have to come light during the pandemic, the digital divide has taken center stage. The lack of access to high-speed internet service is making it difficult for people to telework, attend virtual school or take advantage of online resources. A panel of leaders speaking at the Maryland Economic Development Association’s annual winter conference said the issue impacts businesses as well.

“We focus so much on the need with respect to remote learning, but actually as we have moved through with this pandemic we have all seen that it’s not just remote learning; it’s all of us in our normal business activities,” said Donald C. Fry, CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. “It’s people who are unemployed looking for opportunities…This is an issue that is going to resonate for years to come and now is the right time for us to address it.”

State lawmakers have said they will make broadband access a top priority during this year’s legislative session, which began Jan 13. Del. Brooke Lierman and Sen. Sarah Elfreth together pre-filed legislation in their respective chambers to address the issue.

The bill (House Bill 97, Senate Bill 66) establishes an “Office of Digital Inclusion” in the Department of Housing and Community Development which would be responsible for creating and implementing a statewide plan to ensure all residents have the ability to connect to reliable broadband internet by the end of 2029.

The panel’s discussion about broadband came on the same day the Community Development Network of Maryland and Abell Foundation released a report quantifying how big the digital divide is in the state. The report analyzed data based on a 2019 American Community Survey and found that nearly one in four homes in Maryland, or 23%, do not have a wireline broadband subscription.

Of the 520,000 homes without a subscription, two-thirds are in metro counties or Baltimore City. Additionally, 40% of the disconnected homes in the state are Black.

To read the complete story, visit the Baltimore Business Journal website.

Source: Baltimore Business Journal