Rapid Response Team Organizes to Bring Devices, Internet & Training
Byte Back’s Chrissie Powell Leading Digital Skills & Tech Support Efforts
Media Contact: Yvette Scorse, communications director, Byte Back, gro.kcabetyb@esrocsy
BALTIMORE – This month, 50 organizations launched the Baltimore Digital Equity Coalition to support a rapid response and coordinated actions during the COVID-19 pandemic. As schools, businesses, libraries and community centers remain closed, access to public computers in Baltimore City is cut off.
In Baltimore, 96,000 households, or 40 percent of homes, lack wireline broadband service, and 75,000 households don’t have a laptop or desktop computer, according to an upcoming report by the Abell Foundation. These residents are disconnected from essential aspects of life such as education, mental health and healthcare services, employment, skills development and social connections.
“To be effective, we need the help of nonprofits, e-waste refurbishers, foundations, corporations, and government agencies. That’s why we formed the Baltimore Digital Equity Coalition,” said Adam Echelman, executive director of Libraries Without Borders and one of the leaders of the Coalition. “Together, we want to connect every adult and child in Baltimore with the equipment and skills they need to learn and work under stay-at-home orders.”
“It’s going to take a bridge of enormous size to bridge the digital divide here in Baltimore,” said Chrissie Powell, Baltimore site director at Byte Back and a Coalition leader. “This Coalition is just that – a bridge of Baltimore’s frontline leaders in education, workforce development, skills training, and advocacy.”
With Baltimore under stay-at-home orders, increased digital access is more urgent than ever. Some of the Coalition’s members have been working to close the digital divide for decades, but this is the first time so many have united in such a clear way with cross-sector support.
“Baltimore’s Digital Equity Coalition was formed with lightning speed to urgently connect the disconnected,” said Kelly Hodge-Williams, director of PCs for People Baltimore and a Coalition leader. “Without digital access, you’re ultimately cut off from participation in society.”
“The issue of the digital divide is not new,” said Andrew Coy, executive director of the Digital Harbor Foundation and a Coalition leader. “What is new is the way in which all of us are coming together to organize for collective action. We must address this issue and do so in a way that is intentionally inclusive and deliberately diverse.”
The Baltimore Digital Equity Coalition’s immediate goals address the city’s need for digital access and focus on key digital equity issues:
- Internet Access: Bring home internet to 2,000 disconnected households and increase public Wi-Fi service in the next two months during COVID-19 shutdowns.
- Access to Devices: Help identify inventories of existing devices (estimated in the thousands) for Baltimore City nonprofits supporting workforce development participants and K-12 students. Source and refurbish at least 2,000 additional devices.
- Digital Skills and Tech Support: Create a tech support hotline for residents participating in workforce related skills training and education programs to provide one-on-one support to introduce them to virtual learning.
In the long term, the Baltimore Digital Equity Coalition plans to expand efforts to help connect 96,000 households to the internet, supply affordable devices for residents in need, and provide access to tech training and support.
“Having internet connectivity, computers at home, and basic digital skills isn’t just a necessity during COVID-19. It’s a cornerstone of 21st century citizenship. Until we are all connected, this city cannot thrive,” Echelman said.
Baltimore Digital Equity Coalition Leadership Team:
- Adam Echelman, executive director, Libraries Without Borders
- Chrissie Powell, Baltimore site director, Byte Back
- Kelly Hodge-Williams, director, PCs for People Baltimore
- Andrew Coy, executive director, Digital Harbor Foundation
As of this release, 50 organizations are participating in the Baltimore Digital Equity Coalition:
- Adoptions Together
- Advocates for Children and Youth
- Arts Education in Maryland Schools
- Baltimoreans for Educational Equity/Leadership for Educational Equity
- Baltimore City Infants & Toddlers Program
- Baltimore City Public Schools
- Baltimore Community Foundation
- Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance
- Baltimore Robotics Center
- Baltimore Teachers Union
- Baltimore Workforce Funders Collaborative
- Baltimore Youth Film Arts
- BCIT – Smart City Baltimore
- Byte Back
- Cash Campaign of MD
- Center for Urban Families
- Code in the Schools
- Coppin State
- Digital Harbor Foundation
- Dream Big Baltimore
- Everyone On
- Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond
- Fight Blight
- Fund for Educational Excellence
- Greater Baltimore Urban League
- Hack Baltimore
- The Helen J. Serini Foundation
- Libraries Without Borders
- Maryland Alliance of Public Charter Schools
- Maryland Coalition for Community Schools/MOST
- Mayor’s Office on Employment Development
- Media Democracy Fund
- Neighborhood Design Center
- NPower Maryland
- Open Society Institute
- PCs For People
- Project Own
- Project WAVES
- Robert W. Deutsch Foundation
- Rowdy Orbit
- South Baltimore Learning Center
- Strong City Baltimore (Adult Learning Center)
- Teachers’ Democracy Project
- Tech Policy Institute
- Wide Angle Youth Media
ABOUT BALTIMORE DIGITAL EQUITY COALITION: To get more information about the Coalition and support their work in Baltimore, please visit digitalequitybaltimore.org.