Baltimore Residents Take the Initiative With CrowdFiber Campaign

A community group from Baltimore is taking their fiber campaign directly to the people. The Baltimore Sun recently reported that over 900 people have pledged more than $17,000 to the Baltimore Broadband Coalition. It seems the good people of Baltimore are tired of the city's on-again off-again romance with the idea of a municipal network.

According to the group's CrowdFiber site, the grassroots organization began in a church basement in the Roland Park neighborhood, quickly expanding to other neighborhoods.  There is no specific plan in place yet; the group hopes to use the campaign to first raise awareness of the problem. From the article:

"This is an advocacy effort to help to change what has been the city's plan, or lack of plan, on broadband," said Philip Spevak, one of the campaign's organizers. "Those numbers will help to motivate the city."

Members of the group are also visiting community meetings to help spread the word.

In a Sun commentary published shortly after the group organized, Spevak wrote:

Demonstrating demand alone is unlikely to change the broadband landscape. By adding communities to our campaign and extending the campaign to include the entire city, we hope to engage our city and state leaders to a greater extent. We hope our campaign will lead to a second phase where, in partnership with elected officials, there is a change toward more proactive public policy. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Councilman William Cole understand that the availability of fast Internet is a necessity for economic revitalization. 

Spavek went on to explain their belief that the vision should be unique to suit the community, that Baltimore should locate and use its existing conduit, and that the city should adopt helpful dig-once policies. The group also wants the city to keep citizens, providers, and other stakeholders connected and reach out to federal officials.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has been vocal regarding her support for better connectivity. She has cited the need to jump start economic development:

"You can't grow jobs with slow Internet... people don't want to invest in communities where they feel like they are running through sludge, trying to catch up with other businesses,...People want to be on the cutting edge."

The Baltimore Broadband Coalition goes on to address high-cost, no choice, and a growing digital divide in the city:

  • In Baltimore, compared to surrounding counties where effective competition for Internet services exist, we pay more (as much as $1000 over two years) and the quality of services available is less
  • We face a monopoly for fast Internet services in Baltimore leaving us with little choice in the broadband market
  • Digital injustice - 20-40% of city residents do not connect to the Internet when connectivity is now essential for effective participation

In August 2013 the city commissioned a feasibility study to survey existing resources and provide options to improve connectivity. The current administration expects to see the results by the end of the year. The Coalition is not depending on the city to lead the way:

"I think if the city decides that it is not willing or it's not able to be a municipal broadband, that's not a showstopper at all for our campaign," Spevak said.