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Bring more internet access to Baltimore’s underserved households | READER COMMENTARY

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, center, with Councilmen John T. Bullock, left, and Zeke Cohen, right, announces a $35 million investment with American Rescue Plan Act funding to close the digital divide. The first $6 million will expand public internet access to 23 recreation centers and also add secure Wi-Fi hotspots to West Baltimore neighborhoods. Nov. 30, 2021. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun).
Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, center, with Councilmen John T. Bullock, left, and Zeke Cohen, right, announces a $35 million investment with American Rescue Plan Act funding to close the digital divide. The first $6 million will expand public internet access to 23 recreation centers and also add secure Wi-Fi hotspots to West Baltimore neighborhoods. Nov. 30, 2021. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun). (Amy Davis/Amy Davis)

It’s very good news that Baltimore is expanding internet service with WI-Fi hot spots in and around recreation centers and elsewhere in the city (“Baltimore to use $6M to build public Wi-Fi hot spots,” Dec. 1). This achievement using American Rescue Plan funds, however, will still leave many low-income adults and students without adequate broadband infrastructure where they need it most — to the homes and buildings in which they live. The lack of high-speed internet service for thousands of homes and residential buildings in Baltimore is documented in a 2020 Abell Foundation report and is well-known to city leaders.

A much bolder solution to the lack of internet access is required. Passage of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better legislation providing $65 billion to expand broadband infrastructure in low-income and rural areas is only the first step. City leaders must ensure that the money is used to dig and lay fiber-optic cable to homes and buildings where people live. Laying fiber-optic cable is more expensive, but it allows delivery of reliable high-speed internet connections. Fiber-optic cable can accommodate higher speeds and new generations of technology in the future.

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Wi-Fi and satellite infrastructure are often proposed as “good enough,” but they are not an adequate or reliable broadband infrastructure to bring internet service to a home or residential building; they are too weak to penetrate structures, less reliable and dependent on spectrum allocations. With cable connections brought to homes and residential buildings, Wi-Fi networks can be created inside and work well to provide internet to multiple devices.

City leaders must be ready for the broadband infrastructure opportunity that Build Back Better can provide. Laying fiber should be prioritized for unserved and underserved areas of the city. Telecoms, cable companies, electricity providers, co-ops and local governments will all be eligible to receive money to build broadband infrastructure. The monthly cost of internet service can be subsidized for low-income users through an expanded FCC Lifeline program. Let’s end the digital divide and build a reliable broadband infrastructure in the city for everyone.

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Francis J. Gorman, Baltimore

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