The U.S. Department of Commerce awarded Coppin State University a $3.9 million grant that will support the expansion of broadband internet access in West Baltimore, where it’s less common.
“From health care to homework, having a reliable internet connection has become critical in our everyday lives,” said U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin at a Monday news conference. “This program will provide everyone — regardless of ZIP code — the access they need to excel.”
The grant comes from the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration as part of the Connecting Minority Communities pilot program. The program aims to share $268 million across an applicant pool of historically Black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities, and other minority-serving institutions. Funds will go toward technology, training and other resources to get more Americans online.
Of the $33.5 million awarded to 12 universities so far, Coppin State’s award is the largest, said Alan Davidson, U.S. assistant secretary of commerce for telecommunications and information administration.
Davidson added that the department aims to award all $268 million within this first quarter of this year to get the resources to people who need them.
Coppin State will use the grant funds to start its ConnectEagle Nation programming to help residents in Baltimore City and Baltimore County engage with the internet, Coppin State President Anthony Jenkins said. Specific neighborhoods the program plans to focus on are Mondawmin, Sandtown/Winchester and Penn North.
On a national level, roughly 19 million people don’t have reliable access to broadband, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Despite Baltimore’s urban setting, about 40% of the city’s residents did not have internet service, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey. That same year, one in three Baltimore households did not have a computer.
U.S. Census data found that 30% of West Baltimore households don’t have a computer and 46% don’t have a broadband subscription.
Nicholas Eugene, associate professor at Coppin State and author of the grant application, said the grant will fund the purchase of 2,000 devices, mostly laptops. Community members will have to meet eligibility requirements to receive devices. Eugene said distribution will start with 500 devices before sending out more into the community.
“It’s about justice,” Eugene said. “It’s about bridging the digital divide.”
The Digital Navigator Program will be hosted at the Enoch Pratt Library and will teach participants how to use a computer, as well as access broadband discounts.
The Cyber Apprenticeship Program will be online and at Coppin State’s campus. Through the program, residents can receive training and earn industry certifications in cybersecurity, which they can then use to join the workforce.
Additionally, Coppin State’s College of Health Professions will work with the Baltimore County Health Department to research health and internet connectivity in Lochearn, Milford Mill and Woodlawn. The information will help both entities learn about health disparities and how they relate to technology access.
Steve Delice, who was named director of the ConnectEagle Nation program, will work to spread the word about such resources to area residents. He said there is no timeline yet for when specific resources will be rolled out. The overall program will launch in March.
Baltimore officials also have devoted resources toward bringing public broadband to several West Baltimore neighborhoods.
In November 2021, Mayor Brandon Scott allocated $6 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds to run fiber optic lines to 23 city recreation centers with plans to offer public internet access both inside and outside each location.
It also will cover the installation of another 100 community Wi-Fi hot spots across 10 West Baltimore neighborhoods identified as underserved. Those include Bolton Hill, Coppin Heights, Druid Heights, Easterwood, Madison Park, Mondawmin, Penn North, Reservoir Hill, Sandtown-Winchester and Upton.