Per Montgomery County: Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich has transmitted a request to the Montgomery County Council to approve a supplemental budget appropriation for $22,784,400 to purchase 60,000 Dell Chromebook laptops for residents who do not have a computer. The budget request is funded by a Federal Communications Commission Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) grant secured by the County Department of Technology & Enterprise Business Solutions (TEBS) and Montgomery County Public Libraries (MCPL), with the support of Congressman David Trone. The new computer distribution program requires Council action to proceed, but could launch as early as next month.
“We are closing the digital divide in Montgomery County,” said County Executive Elrich. “Over the last year, our County has been spearheading efforts to get more computers into the hands of children and adults who need them. While the need continues to be out there, our computer distribution efforts are having an impact. As a result, most low-income families in our County will have digital access for homework, for remote work or to find a job. It is a way of helping end the poverty cycle and it doesn’t require anything but a library card. Computer and internet access are key equity issues. I appreciate the Montgomery County Libraries and TEBS for securing this grant and am grateful for the support of our Congressional delegation for this funding.”
According to the United Way, in addition to the eight percent of County households living at or below the Federal poverty rate, 24 percent of County households do not earn enough to meet the costs of household essentials (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed—or “ALICE” households). Through this new Federal grant, combined with three previous computer grants, the County will be able to provide 119,000 computers to the combined 124,286 ALICE and below-poverty-level households in the County.
“I’m very proud of the work that Montgomery Connects is doing to expand rural internet access, enrollment in the Affordable Connectivity Program internet subsidy program, access to computers and Senior Planet training for older adults in three languages,” said TEBS Director and County Chief Information Officer Gail M. Roper. “This new Federal ECF funding for 60,000 more computers is in addition to the 55,000 computers the County has already distributed using grant funds from ECF, Maryland Emergency Educational Relief and the Maryland Connected Devices (MCD) Program.”
Eligibility for the new computer program is limited to Montgomery County Library patrons with a County Public Libraries card.
“Montgomery County Public Libraries’ mission includes providing equitable access to information for all,” said MCPL Director Anita Vassallo. “This initiative provides residents with limited access to technology and/or the internet the means to navigate the digital world to connect to services and resources for themselves and their families.”
Eligible residents must have an email address and a library card to make an appointment online at www.montgomerycountymd.gov/computer when the computer distribution program opens in November. If a resident needs assistance to make an appointment, they should call the Marylander Online Help Hotline at 301-405-9810, from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday to Friday or from 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. on Saturday. Help is available in English and Spanish and in other languages upon request. Residents also can visit any Montgomery County Public Library in person to receive a library card or apply for one online.
Montgomery Connects worked with K-12 partners, Montgomery County Public Libraries, the Department of Recreation, the Housing Opportunities Commission and affordable housing developer Montgomery Housing Partnership (MHP) to distribute 2,479 MCD Chromebooks to families as part of Back-to-School activities. In partnership with Montgomery College, Montgomery Connects also distributed 538 MCD Chromebooks to Pell Grant college students.
Montgomery Connects and TEBS also worked with the Maryland Office of Statewide Broadband, the University of Maryland Extension’s Marylanders Online, the Carroll Technology Council (of Carroll County) and the City of Baltimore Office of Broadband and Digital Equity (part of the Baltimore City Office of Information and Technology) to kick off the Maryland Digital Equity Coalition (MDEC).
The MDEC kickoff was a follow-up to an earlier statewide digital equity training event hosted by Montgomery Connects, Marylanders Online and MDEC, where in a conversation with County Executive Elrich, Governor Wes Moore said about the Internet, “It is everything. It is water.” The Governor further said, “I have a very clear goal. I want everyone in this State to be online and have accessible and affordable internet access by the end of our first term and we are not going stop until we get that done.”
The purpose of the Oct. 5 MDEC launch meeting was to bring together more than 100 Maryland organizations and local governments to highlight the importance of digital equity for all residents and to discuss key digital equity goals and challenges. The Office of Statewide Broadband Deputy Director Ronnie Hammond provided an update on development of the Maryland Digital Equity Plan.
The Maryland Digital Equity Plan must be submitted to the Federal government by Thursday, Dec. 14, as a condition to receive Federal funding under the Digital Equity Act of 2021. Maryland will be obligated to fulfill all commitments included in the Maryland Digital Equity Plan. The State will be accepting public comment on the plan from Nov. 1-30. MDEC and Montgomery Connects will be helping organizations and local governments submit input on the Digital Equity Plan.
“The Governor and the County Executive support digital equity and now is the time for organizations across Montgomery County and the State to comment in writing about what our digital equity priorities are,” said Mitsuko R. Herrera, the Montgomery Connects program director. “Organizations can reach out to the Montgomery Connects Digital Equity Coalition at [email protected] and we will be holding more forums to help give organizations a voice in the Maryland Digital Equity Plan development process.”
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