ELLICOTT CITY, MD – Howard County Executive Calvin Ball today announced exciting, new Transform Howard projects that will make remarkable progress in closing the digital divide in Howard County with broadband expansion to 85% of currently unserved households. Ball detailed three projects to implement public Wi-Fi and broadband in Elkridge to 100 households and expand broadband access in Western Howard County to 462 households. Photos of the event can be found here.
With our Transform Howard initiative, we’re investing in public Wi-Fi, expanding broadband, and ensuring reliable internet services to often overlooked areas. These transformational projects will cover 85% of households that currently don’t have stable internet access. When we bring reliable, affordable, and fast internet access to every household, we are improving the education, health and economic opportunities for all Howard County residents.
Three projects are moving forward that will provide internet access to previously under- or un-served areas:
- Elkridge Mobile Home Park will receive free public Wi-Fi for 88 households and approximately 225 residents through a partnership with the Howard County Library System and a county investment of $65,000 in CARES Act funding.
- 12 households at Norris Lane will be connected to broadband through a partnership with the Office of Statewide Broadband and Verizon and an investment of $100,000 in American Rescue Plan funding.
- Mount Airy/Lisbon/Western Howard County will receive expanded broadband access for 462 households through a county commitment of $500,000 and a federal partnership with the Rural Development Broadband ReConnect Program.
A recent survey of Howard County residents showed us that their use of internet connected computers and other devices for school and education went from 36 percent to 59 percent. Telemedicine and health online usage increased from 28 percent to 81 percent. Using computers and internet access for telework went from 17 percent to 63 percent.
The expansion of internet services to close the digital divide was one of the key recommendations made by the HoCo RISE Collaborative, which brought together 50 public and private sector stakeholders together to create a series of recommendations for pandemic recovery. In response, Howard County launched Transform Howard initiative last May aiming to expand digital inclusion and increase community access to broadband.
To date, a community survey has been completed, the Transform Howard Innovation Grant program was launched, the County government website was redesigned, and development of a broadband strategic plan is underway to identify concrete action items to increase digital equity over the next 3-5 years. Transform Howard’s next focus is on the skill and device gaps for low-income families and older adults.
“We are proud to be a part of the Transform Howard Movement helping to provide the Elkridge mobile home park residents with access to no cost high-speed internet,” said Carim Khouzami, BGE’s CEO and President. “This is so important, as the digital divide is real and a true equity issue. At BGE, we think about how we can leverage our expertise and who we partner with so that we can continue to strengthen our communities and increase access to opportunities like this one.”
“Howard County Library System is honored to partner with Howard County Government, local agencies and our community to make Wi-Fi available and to improve the quality of life and life outcomes for Howard County residents and visitors. It is through our collaborative efforts that we make the most impact and create meaningful change,” said Howard County Library System President & CEO Tonya Aikens.
“These days internet is not a luxury; rather, it is a necessity,” said Norris Lane resident Marisa McCurdy. “While not in virtual school any longer, my kids still regularly struggle with assignments due to downloading speeds and other impediments. I have a legal practice and started working exclusively from my home over 4 years ago - satellite internet made the situation manageable but certainly not ideal. If I never hear ‘it’s glitching again’ it’ll be too soon. Thank you to everyone who helped bring this about.”
“When CAC was contacted by Howard County’s Department of Technology & Communication Services about this initiative and without any hesitation, we stepped forward and said ‘yes’ to supporting this project,” said Community Action Council of Howard County President Bita Dayoff. “In navigating through the effects of the pandemic in our community, CAC has had a front-row seat in understanding the importance of being connected. COVID-19 truly highlighted the unequal access to IT that has long existed, but most importantly it also showed how deeply the divide can limit opportunity to access help for basic human needs such as food and shelter.”