Pasadena resident Ebony Bowser owns a computer, but it often crashes at crucial times, such as during her telehealth appointments. When her mother told her about Anne Arundel County’s Chromebook giveaway, Bowser seized the opportunity.

On Wednesday, Bowser was among many county residents who turned out for a laptop giveaway at the Linthicum Library. Under a new program, the county is giving away some 7,000 Chromebooks to residents who qualify based on income and other criteria.

More than 200 devices were given away at the event. Many residents who attended the event said having a reliable electronic device would help with school, work and paying bills online.

“It would definitely help being able to do my video doctor’s appointments and speak with my disability lawyer through a video call,” said Bowser, 40, who receives most of her health care through video appointments.

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County Executive Steuart Pittman launched the program to close the digital divide that many people experience.

Distribution events will be held at each of the county’s libraries through June.

“These devices are like tools that if you don’t have them in this day and age, you don’t only not get ahead, but it’s really hard to just get by. You can’t access government services,” Pittman told The Baltimore Banner. “There are so many things that are online now, and we still have people that are not connected. We’ve been doing a lot with getting people online, but these devices are a great idea. There are plenty of people who need them.”

The Anne Arundel County Library System is providing the books through a grant from Maryland’s Connected Devices Program, which is under the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

“With our students participating in virtual learning and many families working remotely, closing the digital divide has become increasingly important,” Pittman said in a statement. “I want to thank AACPL for their continued partnership in initiatives that help empower our communities by increasing access to important tools and resources.”

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Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman and Anne Arundel County Public Library employee Liz Kupke register a resident for the County's Chromebook giveaway at the Linthicum Library. (Royale Bonds)

Skip Auld, the CEO of the library system, said the laptop giveaway is consistent with the agency’s mission.

“Libraries are community connectors. We use our resources and partnerships to help people live better lives and build stronger communities,” Auld said in a statement. ”We are proud to work with Anne Arundel County to put these devices in the hands of those who need them most.”

The gap between those who have reliable devices and high-speed internet and those who don’t concerns national leaders.

In 2022, President Joe Biden introduced the “Internet for All” initiative. It stresses that “reliable, high-speed internet is vital to work, learn and compete in a 21st-century economy.”

As of 2022, close to half of the United States population was not using the internet at broadband speeds. This is because broadband internet infrastructure didn’t reach them, or people lacked the resources to afford the service or the knowledge to use it, according to the Harvard Business Review.

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Chrometops are powered by ChromeOS, Google’s operating system.

A county resident can qualify for a Chromebook laptop if he or she is 18, resides in the county and qualifies as low-income.

Eligible households include individuals with a current household income below 200% of the federal poverty level — that works out to $55,500 for a family of four — or those currently enrolled or participating in approved government assistance programs, including Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

There is a limit of one per household.

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Qualifying residents can register for an available appointment to pick up a Chromebook. The next giveaway event will be held at the Severn Library on Friday from 1 to 4 p.m., and at the Deale Library on Tuesday, Jan. 30, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Among the recipients Wednesday was Robin Gardner, 65. She said her computer crashed two months ago. During that time, she had to go to a friend’s house to pay bills and check her email. Once she heard about the giveaway on Facebook, she quickly set an appointment.

“This means so much. I feel like crying,” Gardner said after receiving her computer. “This is the best thing that’s happened to me in a long time.”

Royale Bonds attended Southern Illinois University. Go Salukis! She previously worked as an affordable housing reporter in Greenville, South Carolina. Royale enjoys long naps, snacking and endless scrolling on social media. She looks forward to reporting on Anne Arundel County and covering the stories that matter. 

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