A happy family using a computer together.

Baltimore is one of 28 communities selected to participate in ConnectHome, a newly launched initiative by the Obama administration to speed up broadband adoption among low-income families.

The program, which the president announced July 15 during a visit to Durant, Okla., is a public-private partnership which is coordinated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in collaboration with the national nonprofits EveryoneOn and US Ignite. The program will deliver broadband Internet, technical assistance and digital literacy training to children and families living in public-assisted housing with an eye to reducing inequities in Internet access.

“Today, we’re going to take another step to close the digital divide in America, and make sure everybody in America has access to high-speed broadband Internet,” President Obama said.

“While high-speed Internet access is a given, it’s assumed, for millions of Americans, it’s still out of reach for too many people – especially in low-income and rural communities…. So, in other words, the people who could benefit the most from the latest technology are the least likely to have it,” Obama continued.

While billions has been invested in broadband infrastructure over the past decade and many more Americans have access to high-speed Internet, one in four American families still don’t access the Internet at home, particularly lower-income families with children, officials said.

The gap has severe implications for America’s future as a leader in the world, administration officials said.

“America’s challenge in this 21st century is to remain the world’s undisputed land of opportunity”, said HUD Secretary Julián Castro in a statement. “By expanding broadband adoption, ConnectHome will provide more Americans with the same high-speed access to knowledge and opportunity that millions of people already enjoy.”

The program will be a particular boon to Baltimore; a city of stark economic divides.

“More than 20 percent of Baltimoreans lack access to broadband Internet at home, preventing them from seeking employment opportunities, taking advantage of online learning platforms, accessing information about health care, and searching for goods and government services,” said Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md. “The ConnectHome pilot program will play an important role in helping Baltimore bridge the digital divide and will make a positive impact on our city’s communities.”

The program is of particularly importance for students as they seek to learn and eventually find careers in an increasingly digital world.

“Access to the Internet is a necessity for students at a very early age. Children who are not connected at home are falling further behind their peers not only in grade school, but as they enter college and a high-tech working world,” said Congressman Elijah Cummings, whose district includes Baltimore.  “ConnectHome will help level the playing field for low-income families in Baltimore by connecting students online with their teachers and their schools’ educational resources.  I commend the President and his Administration for creating this opportunity.  By ensuring high-speed Internet access at home, we will open up a new world of educational opportunities for our children.”

ConnectHome creates a hub to harness efforts from local governments, Internet service providers and other members of private industry, nonprofit organizations, and other interested entities that will produce locally tailored solutions to tear down barriers to broadband access including: prohibitive costs, lack of infrastructure and low rates of digital literacy.

Some contributing partners include:

-Age of Learning, which will make its ABCmouse.com online early learning curriculum available, for free, to families living in HUD housing in ConnectHome communities.

-The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), which will produce and distribute new educational, children’s, and digital literacy content via participating local PBS stations tailored for ConnectHome participants.

-GitHub will provide $250,000 to support devices and digital literacy training to HUD residents in ConnectHome cities.
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