8.20.21 – Technically Media – By Donte Kirby / STAFF
A new $100 million investment from the state is aiming to expand access to broadband connectivity, and create a subsidy program for residents to address affordability.
Maryland is investing $100M in state funding to go along with a big federal investment that aims to close gaps in broadband connectivity. Together, it forms a new intiative called Connect Maryland.
The $400 million program is primarily funded by $300 million from the American Rescue Plan Act, which was previously announced in April. With an announcement by Gov. Larry Hogan on Friday, state government is adding funding of its own.
The governor also announced a Maryland Broadband Advisory Workgroup, which includes members from counties and municipalities as well as the state legislature, to oversee how the funding is distributed.
“The State of Maryland has set an ambitious goal of ensuring universal broadband to everyone in every single corner of the state by no later than 2025, and Connect Maryland is the game-changing initiative that is going to get us there,” said Hogan. He announced the program at a news conference in Snow Hill on Friday that was also attended by Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones.
The Connect Maryland initiative includes a program that provides a discount on internet service of up to $50 per month. It’s called the Maryland Emergency Broadband Benefit Subsidy Program. Households must be approved for the federal Emergency Broadband Benefit to receive assistance. When combined with state assistance, households can receive a discount of $65 per month for up to 12 months. Eligibility for the program requires that a person does the following:
- Has an income that is at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines or participates in certain assistance programs, such as SNAP, Medicaid, or Lifeline;
- Approved to receive benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision in the 2019-2020 or 2020-2021 school year;
- Received a federal Pell Grant during the current award year;
- Experienced a substantial loss of income due to job loss or furlough since February 29, 2020, and the household had a total income in 2020 at or below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers; or
- Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating Internet Service Provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 program.
In Maryland, about one in four — or 520,000 — households lack wireline broadband connectivity, according to a report commissioned by the Abell Foundation analyzing 2019 data. In 2020, the arrival of pandemic made the digital divide particularly acute, given the shift to conducting school, work and other key societal functions online. For policymakers, it moved broadband toward the top of the list of issues to address. The sizable investments being made as a result have the potential to bring lasting infrastructure solutions.
Connect Maryland is the latest initative by state government to invest more into broadband infrastructure. The Maryland General Assembly this year passed a law to create the Office of Statewide Broadband. It also came with the provision Hogan referenced to connect all Marylanders to the internet by 2026.
Donte Kirby is a 2020-2021 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.