Maryland today | $6 Million State Reward to Help Expansion Bridge…

A $400 million statewide package to expand broadband access in Maryland includes $6 million for the University of Maryland Extension (UME) to conduct projects strengthening the digital literacy among those previously bypassed by the modern internet.

UME will focus on broadband adoption, with $4 million available for training, skills and education initiatives, and an additional $2 million to help people sign up to access and acquire a device.

After the COVID-19 pandemic forced work, school and other aspects of our lives to move online, Maryland lawmakers learned that 23% of households in the state had no service. Broadband Internet. It quickly became clear that they were struggling not just academically and with work productivity, but also staying in touch with family and friends during lockdowns or finding critical information like testing sites. or vaccines. The resulting Connect Maryland initiative, announced last August by Gov. Larry Hogan, includes $300 million in federal funds from the U.S. federal bailout act, plus an additional $100 million in public funds.

Drawing on an Abell Foundation report on digital connectivity in Maryland, UME faculty found that the digital divide disproportionately affects Baltimore city and rural county residents, residents in low-income and older people, as well as people of color, especially blacks and Hispanics.

“With this generous state funding, we will mobilize a technology education division to provide training, support, and curriculum development to help increase adoption, understanding, and comfort” using broadband internet, said Jim Hanson, professor and associate dean/director of UME.

UME project leader Jinhee Kim said the first phase will include surveys and stakeholder interviews to better understand community needs, with input from the Office of Statewide Broadband and the Maryland Rural Council. In addition, UMD’s College of Information Studies will work with rural libraries, where computer stations are the primary Internet access points for residents.

“Digital literacy is an important part of our digital inclusion efforts,” said Kenrick Gordon, director of Statewide Broadband at the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. “Without providing a firm understanding of how to access the Internet and what it can be used for, we will fail in our efforts to ensure that all Marylanders have access, understand and are able to use broadband. .”

In subsequent phases, UME will use the $4 million portion of the award to develop programs that meet the social, cultural, and linguistic needs of users; provide training and support to instructors and trainers, volunteers, peers, family members and residents; create an online digital literacy repository; and develop digital literacy partnerships with government agencies, libraries, employment agencies, nonprofits, businesses, and others.

The $2 million will help improve residents’ digital navigation, including home connectivity, devices and digital skills; assisting community members with resources to obtain affordable broadband access and devices; and provide basic technical support.

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