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Study: Baltimore internet access lags behind similar cities

Many lower-income neighborhoods in Baltimore, with fewer trees and parks, are up to 8 degrees warmer than the coolest areas, creating a variety of health problems, including many among pregnant women. (CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE/FILE PHOTO)

Many lower-income neighborhoods in Baltimore have substantially less access to wireline internet and to computers, according to a new study. (Capital News Service/File Photo)

Baltimore continues to lag behind other major cities in terms of low-income and minority residents’ access to internet and computers, according to a new report.

As of 2018 nearly 41% of households in Baltimore did not have wireline internet, such as cable fiber, or digital subscriber line, according to an analysis of American Community Survey data by the Abell Foundation. A review of data from 33 cities, including Pittsburgh, Washington, and Philadelphia, found the average number of households without wireline internet service reached slightly more than 30%.

The analysis, by John Horrigan a senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute and senior adviser to the Urban Libraries Council, also found more than 68% of Baltimore’s households either possess a desktop or laptop computer. In other cities, however, nearly 76% of homes possessed a laptop or desktop computer.

“Compared to other cities, Baltimore has a significantly higher share of households lacking wireline broadband and desktop or laptop computers. Underscoring the persistence of Baltimore’s access gaps, wireline broadband adoption nationwide grew three times faster in the cities examined than in Baltimore from 2016 to 2018,” Horrigan writes in the report released Tuesday.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of access to the internet and computers. Those tools enable residents to limit their potential for getting ill by working from home and for children to receive some schooling while orders for residents to stay home remain in place.

The Abell Foundation’s analysis also illustrates how the gap in internet service breaks down along racial lines in the city. More than 73% of white households in Baltimore have wireline internet service compared to a little more than 50% of African-Americans and roughly 46% of Hispanic homes.

At the same time nearly 81% of white households had either a desktop or laptop computer, while 60% of African-American households had access to a computer at home, and more than 47% of Hispanic homes reported having access to a computer at home.

Data reviewed in the report also reinforced how income levels play a significant role in gaps in internet and computer access. Nearly 34% of low-income residents reported having home internet connection, with nearly 43% of those households enjoy a desktop or laptop. In households with income exceeding $75,000, 83% reported wireline internet connection, and 90% said they retain a laptop or desktop computer.

Baltimore has sought to close the “digital divide,” essentially the gap between rich and poor residents’ access to technology, for years.

The Abell report essentially reiterates the relationship between poverty and technology established by earlier studies.

Researchers from four area universities, led by the University of Maryland, College Park, delivered a report in late 2018, examining how Baltimore can adopt “smart technology” without exacerbating the digital gab between rich and poor.

Findings from that study, “Smart Cities, Connected Communities: Using Technology to Meet the Needs of West Baltimore Residents,” were based on responses from focus groups held in west Baltimore between December 2017 and June 2018.

Residents in the groups told researchers their top concern regarding technology was access to quality internet. Of the residents included in those groups, 30% said they depended on library branches to access the internet. Roughly 20% of those same residents said internet access they had at home was too slow, and 21% said their connection was unreliable.

Baltimore, according to Abell’s research, ranked No. 29 out of 33 cities in terms of home access to wireline broadband. The percentage of homes in the city with wireline internet between 2016 and 2018 increased by less than 1% while the city’s overall population declined.

Community survey responses from other cities in the study revealed the number of homes with wireline internet increased by nearly 3%. Nationwide, home access to wireline broadband increased by more than 2%.

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