Disconnected in Maryland

January 2021 / Abell Reports / Community Development
A child and adult look at a laptop together.
This analysis of the 2019 American Community Survey reveals the racial and economic underpinnings of the digital divide across the state of Maryland.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed a number of shortcomings in the nation’s social infrastructure, one of which is access to the internet. When school is exclusively online or medical appointments rely principally on telehealth, those without online access are not merely inconvenienced. They are socially excluded, given their limited means to get online. This turns attention to digital inclusion – making sure people can get online from home, with the digital hardware and skills to enable participation in society.

In “Disconnected in Maryland: Statewide Data Show the Racial and Economic Underpinnings of the Digital Divide,” technology expert John B. Horrigan, Ph.D., takes stock of digital inclusion in Maryland by examining two digital access tools that enable robust online access. The first is wireline high-speed internet subscriptions at home. The other is whether a household has a working desktop, laptop, or tablet computer.

Analysis of American Community Survey data on household adoption for home wireline internet service and computing devices shows that:

  • Some 520,000 Maryland households do not subscribe to wireline broadband service at home. That comes to 23% of homes lacking service.
  • Approximately 391,000 Maryland homes do not have a desktop or laptop computer, or 18% of all households.
  • Close to 290,000 Maryland households have neither a desktop, laptop, nor tablet computing device in their homes. That is 13% of households without these digital access tools.
  • Some 108,000 Maryland households with children under the age of 18 do not have wireline internet service at home. These households suffering from the “homework gap” are disproportionately poor, African American, and Hispanic.

While digital adoption in rural areas is an issue, the weight of these gaps fall heavily in urban and metro areas and among African American households. There are 206,000 African American households without wireline broadband service connection in Maryland, or nearly 40% of all disconnected households.

To help close digital adoption gaps, the report finds that stakeholders in Maryland should consider the following recommendations:

  • Embark on a statewide broadband planning process to address all dimensions of the problem.
  • Create partnerships focused on expanding digital inclusion. The state should consider creating an Office of Digital Inclusion to manage initiatives across the state.
  • Increase public awareness of internet affordability programs.
  • Improve access to computing devices for low-income households.

The Community Development Network of Maryland (CDN) commissioned this research report, funded by a grant from the Abell Foundation. CDN also worked with Dr. Horrigan and the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance (BNIA) to create and map a Digital Inclusion Index of zip codes across Maryland.

Try the Mapping Tool