All Maryland households could have access to broadband internet within five years, according to plans Gov. Wes Moore’s office released Monday.
There were roughly 32,000 homes in the state without broadband internet connection as of August, according to the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.
Deploying broadband internet to areas without service is expected to cost about $484 million and include building fiber infrastructure to each unconnected address the state identifies, many of which are often in low-density areas and among the toughest locations in which to build.
Maryland will pay for much of the project with the $267 million it received from the Biden administration as part of the tens of billions of dollars allocated for expanding broadband access nationwide.
The Moore administration developed its broadband expansion plan to tap the federal funding.
“We will ensure every single Marylander has access to affordable and reliable internet, as well as the resources to be able to connect, and the state’s five-year plans are a roadmap to get us there,” Moore said in a statement Monday.
The administration is also seeking public feedback before submitting its plans to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
State and federal officials and organizations have also sought to lower the cost of internet for low-income households in areas with broadband access.
Tens of millions of low-income households across the country qualify for a $30-per-month internet discount through the Affordable Connectivity Program. Maryland also offers $15 off the bill, meaning low-income households in the state can qualify for $45 toward their monthly internet payment.
Between January and September, the number of Marylanders enrolled in the program increased roughly 38%, according to EducationSuperHighway, a nonprofit organization that has connected schools across the country to broadband and is now focused on helping low-income households afford it.
For months Moore has pushed for people to take advantage of the program, though just one in three eligible Marylanders — roughly 257,000 out of a possible 780,000 — have enrolled.
Nationally, 40% of those eligible have enrolled in the program.
Any household with an income that’s equal to 200% of federal poverty guidelines is eligible for the program. Pell grant recipients, families with a child in a free or reduced-price lunch program, Medicaid enrollees, those receiving SNAP benefits, people with veteran’s pension benefits and those who qualify for some other government assistance are also eligible.
Lack of broadband access can be seen as an issue predominantly facing rural communities; the state’s Office of Statewide Broadband used to be the Office of Rural Broadband.
But Baltimore is, by far, the Maryland jurisdiction with both the most households enrolled in the Affordability Connectivity Program and the jurisdiction with the most eligible households that aren’t using the program, followed by Dundalk, according to EducationSuperHighway.