Annapolis - Governor Larry Hogan has announced $9.9 million in available funding as part of the first wave of a five-year plan to provide 225,000 Marylanders in rural communities with reliable, affordable internet access.
“Maryland is ranked number one in America for having the fastest internet and we have been working hard to provide high-speed internet to every county in the state,” Hogan said. “Today I’m announcing that we will provide an additional $10 million this year as the first installment of a five-year $100 million initiative that will finally provide another 225,000 Marylanders in rural communities with access to reliable and affordable high-speed internet services.”
According to the Federal Communications Commission, 6.3% of Marylanders living in rural areas lack access to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps, compared to 1.9% of urban residents.
The counties with the least-available access include Garrett (32.9%), Allegany (22.3%) and Charles (21.9%), the FCC reports.
“Broadband access is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity,” said John Draper, second vice president of the Maryland Farm Bureau. “Our rural residents need reliable internet for health care access, government services, educational and business opportunities, and a greater quality of life.”
The United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm Computer Usage and Ownership report states that 23% of Maryland farms don’t have reliable internet access. The report also identifies satellite as the most common method for farm owners to access internet.
“Precision agriculture is one of the greatest tools we have for conservation and innovation — but we need coverage in the farm fields to use it,” Draper said. “We appreciate Gov. Hogan’s support in finding solutions for broadband improvement throughout the state.”
Created by executive order in 2017, the Office of Rural Broadband, housed in the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, was established to expand broadband capabilities statewide in underserved, rural areas of Maryland.
The plan builds upon earlier efforts made by the Office of Rural Broadband, which successfully implemented the following projects:
Provided a loan and refinanced $17 million of the City of Westminster’s debt through the Local Government Infrastructure Financing Program for Westminster’s newly completed fiber network. This financing support will ensure that the city’s network is sustainable and will allow for the completion of customer installations over the next three years.
Awarded grants of up to $100,000 each for 11 small broadband pilot projects in five counties.
Awarded grants of up to $60,000 each to six counties for broadband feasibility studies. The studies will identify areas lacking broadband facilities, provide guidance for planning and construction, and determine present cost estimates.
Hosted a conference in the summer of 2018 for county information technology and economic development officials to determine the needs and status of each county’s broadband expansion efforts. Eighteen counties attended the conference, where best practices developed in relation to local efforts were presented.
Provided technical assistance and application preparation funding with grants of up to $200,000 for the upcoming USDA ReConnect broadband funding program. The office worked with two applicants, Easton Utilities on behalf of Talbot County and Armstrong Communications on behalf of Harford and Cecil Counties. If the applicants are selected by USDA, they could be eligible for federal grant awards up to $25 million each.