County will submit form to express interest in receiving state financial assistance
(Nov. 22, 2019) The Worcester County Commissioners took another step toward obtaining an expansion of rural broadband into the county Tuesday by agreeing to submit a request-of-interest form to the state.
According to Worcester County IT Director Brian Jones, the General Assembly is providing $2 million to the Department of Housing and Community Development, Governor’s Office of Rural Broadband to help expand broadband into rural areas.
The document outlines the intent “to leverage the provided funds through direct financial and technical assistance as needed to obtain full project funding via federal funding sources,” according to Jones’ report. He said submitting the form does not obligate the county to perform any work or cover any associated costs.
“I feel this is the next step in preparation for broadband in rural portions of Worcester County,” Jones said.
Though the county is still waiting for results of the broadband feasibility that began this summer, Jones said the form should be filled out as much as possible, since responses from all counties are due Dec. 15. Meanwhile, the full results of the study are expected by Dec. 31.
The goal of the study is to determine if providing broadband services is feasible and where any problematic coverage spots may be.
The feasibility study, conducted by Columbia Telecommunications from Kensington, Maryland, involves building density maps, meeting with stakeholders and discerning where the service location ends. The original feasibility cost of $60,000 was reduced to $30,000 after Gov. Larry Hogan’s office made a grant available.
The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development established the Office of Rural Broadband in 2017 via executive order. Jones had introduced the study to county commissioners at a Nov. 13, 2018 meeting, received bid approval in January 2019 and then study approval on Feb. 26, 2019.
County Commissioner Joseph Mitrecic clarified with Jones that the $2 million is to be split among the participating counties. While that is true, Jones replied, not all counties have applied.
This same grant was available last year, but Jones said that the county was not ready to apply at that time. County Commissioner Ted Elder agreed with Jones that the time was right to submit the interest form.
“This is something we need to get moving as quickly as possible,” Elder said. “This stuff seems to drag on longer than Route 113 improvements.”