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Baltimore County to expand broadband for hundreds of northwestern, rural residents

Baltimore County will use more than $2 million in grant funding to extend high-speed internet access to nearly 900 northwestern county residents, County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. announced.

The expansion is funded through the Governor’s Office of Rural Broadband, which offers grants to local governments for construction costs related to an internet service provider extending its services.

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The grant — matched by the county and Comcast, the county’s internet service provider — will allow the county to expand a pilot program launched last year. The county used $38,000 from the Office of Rural Broadband to extend high-speed internet to 24 homes along Black Rock and Grace roads in Upperco.

Work in the northwestern county is expected to begin later this year. Grant-funded internet extension projects must be completed by June 30 next year, according to the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, which administers the funds to the Office of Rural Broadband.

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State funding for broadband expansion is limited to areas where download speeds don’t exceed 25 megabits per second, and upload speeds are no more than 3 megabits per second.

The award is “a critical step in providing needed infrastructure and service necessary to expand rural broadband access for Baltimore County families,” Olszewski said in a statement.

“We look forward to continuing to engage in a productive partnership with the Governor’s Office, Comcast and our communities to further expand the County’s ability to efficiently increase access,” he added.

Baltimore County estimates at least 4,000 north county residences have no high-speed internet access. The North County Community Group has estimated it’s closer to 12,000, the Towson Times reported in 2019.

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One of the biggest hurdles to expanding broadband there has been ongoing negotiations over a new franchise agreement between the county and Comcast, the county’s internet service provider.

Because of the age of the contract — executed in 2004 — Baltimore County has different standards than other counties for the number of homes required per square mile that Comcast can serve.

In Baltimore County, density has to be at least 30 houses per square mile.

The county has said a new agreement will update density requirements that would require internet service providers to connect more rural homes and businesses.

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