(Aug. 30, 2019) Worcester County government continues to await the completion of a broadband feasibility study, but expects to receive recommendations within the next few months, according to Worcester County’s IT Director Brian Jones.
Jones said Columbia Telecommunications (CTC), of Kensington, Maryland, the company responsible for conducting the survey, is working on building density maps, meeting with stakeholders and discerning where the service ends outside of each town.
“Really, we’re in a wait mode,” Jones said. “We’re just waiting for the company that’s doing the study to get back to us with some information.”
The county’s cost of obtaining that information was reduced via a grant opportunity from made available by Gov. Larry Hogan’s office, which allocated funds to match up to $60,000 for a broadband feasibility study for the county.
Jones said the study initially cost $60,000, but Worcester County paid only $30,000. He added that the study was previously approved, and the money was allocated on June 3.
“That’s a huge help to us,” Jones said. “We don’t have to shelter the entire amount. If you have to host the entire $60,000 ... it’s a big chunk out of the budget.”
The funding was announced last week as the administration provided an additional $10 million for efforts to bring broadband services to rural areas in Maryland, according to a statement from the governor’s office. The funding is part of a five-year $100 million initiative that would eventually help roughly 225,000 residents gain access to high speed Internet.
“The way it sits right now, he [Hogan] is committed to work on broadband ... within the rural areas and communities of the county,” Jones said.
The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development established the Office of Rural Broadband in 2017 via executive order to “expand broadband capabilities statewide in underserved, rural areas of Maryland,” according to a statement from the governor’s office.
Jones has been working to get the broadband feasibility study off the ground since he first introduced a proposal to the county commissioners at a Nov. 13, 2018 meeting. The commissioners in January permitted Jones to solicit bids and approved the overall feasibility study during a Feb. 26 meeting.
Jones said the study was needed to establish whether instituting broadband service in Worcester County is actually feasible, and to find any problem areas where holes in coverage are likely to exist.
Joanne Hovis, president of Columbia Telecommunications, said her team would generate “cost effective” recommendations, but the necessary infrastructure and final price tag would depend solely on the findings of the broadband feasibility study.
“I think it’s critical first to understand what’s really happening in the community, and where those broadband gaps are,” Hovis said earlier this year.
“We know who’s having [these] problems,” he said last week. “We know where the complaints are from the constituents of the county. That’s easy to determine.”
Jones also said it’s the number of gadgets per household that are unknown factors associated with the broadband issue.
“The one thing we don’t know, and we don’t even know with the people that even have adequate broadband, is how many devices are they servicing per household,” Jones said. “Do they have four devices? Do they have five devices?”
Jones said cost is another obstacle the county could face in order to provide quality wireless internet service to county residents.
“You’ve got to have the money to support it. You’ve got to have the money to sustain it. You’ve got to have the money to build it. You’ve got to have a plan to move forward with it, otherwise it’s going to fail,” Jones said. “We know what we would like to see, but just having the abilities to do it is completely different, and we just don’t have it yet, and there’s so many hoops you have to jump through to get there and maybe, eventually, we would get there.”