Carroll County officials continue to explore options to eliminate gaps in internet connectivity for residents in rural areas by pursuing state funding and working in partnership with several internet service providers.
At Thursday’s Board of County Commissioners meeting, officials approved a request from the Department of Technology Services to provide letters of support and matching funding to Talkie Communications, Inc., of Chestertown, and Quantum Telecommunications, Inc., of Manchester. Both internet service providers (ISPs) are submitting grant applications to the Office of Statewide Broadband for the fiscal 2022 Connect Maryland Network Infrastructure Grant Program.
The state program, funded by the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, offers grants between $1 million and $10 million to local jurisdictions or ISP partners to construct new broadband networks to “unserved households.” The grant may pay for 70% to 90% of the capital construction costs associated with providing service to unserved homes and businesses. A match of 10% to 30% of the capital construction costs is required. Applications for the state grant are due by Jan. 14.
“If selected by the state, the proposed funded service area will provide broadband for up to 1,206 unserved households located in several rural areas, starting north of Taneytown and ending south of New Windsor,” said Mark Ripper, director of Carroll County’s Department of Technology Services. “The selected ISP will be responsible for the entirety of the project, including construction of the new service areas, and will own and operate the network once installation is complete.”
Talkie’s proposed service area includes 958 households and requires a county match of $328,757; Quantum’s proposed service area includes 1,206 households and requires a $2.5 million county match.
With the board’s approval, Ripper said funding for the county match will be met using the county’s Local Fiscal Recovery Funds already allocated for expansion of broadband in Carroll County.
“It’s wonderful to see these ISPs that want to come in here and participate. … That gets us away from the ‘only game in town’ company that we’re accustomed to,” Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said. “I think this really goes a long way in getting more of our households lit.”
In addition, it was announced this week Carroll County will receive $393,123 in grant awards from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. Administered by the Governor’s Office of Rural Broadband, the funds will go toward the expansion of rural broadband access to 89 additional residences on Garret and Halter roads.
The grant funds will be matched by money from Comcast and county government. The work, which will include laying more than 8 miles of fiber, is expected to begin later this year.
“I want to make folks aware this funding and lighting up these households is not going to happen next week,” Wantz said. “I think it’s important to understand we’re going to need some patience here but … there is a much brighter light at the end of the tunnel now.”