It was only one month ago that students and leaders from Baltimore joined others from cities around the nation to call on Comcast and the Federal Communica- tions Commission to expand Wi-Fi access and move the conversation forward on the Internet as a utility.
The call came amid the release of an Abell Foundation report, which noted 40 percent of homes in Baltimore City lacked wireless Internet access, and one in three didn’t have a desktop or laptop. Further, one in two Black and brown city students lacked access to broadband Internet.
To bridge the digital divide, the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) has partnered with Comcast to provide Internet service for up to 1,000 families from 14 different partner schools in West Baltimore for one year.
According to a news release, the initiative began in June when the UMB Community COVID Recovery Task Force petitioned UMB President Dr. Bruce E. Jarrell to bring Internet access to the students and neighbors in the surrounding West Baltimore communities.
Jarrell approved the funds needed to provide the resource to up to 1,000 families using the Comcast Internet Essentials program as a means to deliver Internet service, which brings affordable, high-speed internet, gener- ally priced at $9.95 per month, to low-income households.
Through this sponsorship program, UMB will cover the service’s cost for 12 months so that community members can stay connected, and students can have much-needed access to online learning and other resources. And since Comcast is offering two months of free Internet Essentials service through the end of 2020, families not previously signed up for Internet Essentials will enjoy 14 months of Internet service.
“We’re proud to embark on this partnership with UMB to connect so many families in West Baltimore to high-speed Internet,” Misty Allen, vice president of government and regulatory affairs for Comcast’s Beltway Region, said in a statement. “For more than a decade, Comcast has been dedicated to bridging the digital divide in Baltimore and across the nation with our Internet Essentials program, which to date has connected millions of low-income families to the Internet.”
Allen added that not only do the students have readily available access to their schoolwork, but their parents also have readily available access to telework capabilities, electronic bills, job applications and more.
“This need was driving all of us from the start because we knew without Internet access many families in our community and their children would be left out,” said Jane Shaab, UMB’s associate vice president for economic development and co-chair of the UMB Community COVID Recovery Task Force. “As an educational institution, UMB cares deeply about how people learn and what they learn, so connecting our neighbors with this vital service is a priority.”
The 14 schools participating in the program are Booker T. Washington Middle School, Charles Carroll Barrister, Eutaw-Marshburn Elementary School, Excel Academy at Francis M. Wood High School, Franklin Square Elementary/Middle School, Furman Templeton Preparatory Academy, George Washington Elementary School, Harlem Park Elementary/Middle School, Historic Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Elementary School, James McHenry Elementary/Middle School, Renaissance Academy, Southwest Baltimore Charter School, Steuart Hill Academic Academy, and Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy.