NEW CARROLLTON, Md. (WJZ) — The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development has announced nearly $30,000 in awards to companies to expand internet access to 12,000 households in 18 counties, according to a department statement Tuesday.

These awards are the first the Office of Statewide Broadband, which was established within DHCD earlier this year with Gov. Larry Hogan signing into law a bill that also established the Digital Inclusion Fund and the Digital Connectivity Fund to provide grants to local governments and nonprofits. The grants will support efforts to bring high-speed internet and infrastructure to residents statewide. Its goal is to have 98 percent universal broadband access by the end of 2025.

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The counties are: Caroline, Carroll, Cecil, Charles, Frederick, Garrett, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Somerset, St. Mary’s and Washington.

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Maryland has given out more than $56 million in federal and state funds to support broadband access since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The OSB provided grants to local school districts to provide connectivity to unserved students, funded additional WiFI access points for libraries to allow the community to connect and provided Recovery Now funds of $2 million for projects in Dorchester, Harford, and Wicomico counties.

“Lack of access to broadband must be addressed, regardless of the reason,” OSB Director Kenrick Gordon said in the statement. “The Office of Statewide Broadband will partner with local governments and internet service providers to ensure connectivity in communities that lack access and, in areas with existing service, increase affordability for low-income residents ”

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CBS Baltimore Staff