The Board of County Commissioners voted Thursday to allocate $400,000 to issue broadband-related grants, furthering the county’s goal of expanding broadband services throughout Carroll.
The grants will be for the “construction, acquisition, or leasing of facilities or spectrum, land, towers or buildings used to deploy broadband service for business and residentially-based businesses,” according to meeting documents.
Mark Ripper, chief information officer for the county’s technology services, said this program was something the Board of County Commissioners wanted to look into as a part of a push to bring fiber to more areas of the county. During the 2017 budget session, the commissioners allocated $1 million in Fiscal Year 2018 for the expansion of the fiber network in Carroll County.
“This was one of the ideas that [the broadband committee] came up with and it’s really modeled after a program we used to have in Economic Development,” Denise Beaver, deputy director of the Carroll County Department of Economic Development. “There’s still challenges in reaching that last mile.”
Beaver said they’ve heard from service providers directly that if they don’t have broadband redundancy or access, it’s too costly for them to “bite the bullet” and make the investment to get a connection, and this grant program could help.
The plan is to have an application process, she said.
The service provider or business entity in Carroll would have to be in good business standing and plan to provide service to either an underserved or unserved area. According to meeting documents, the plan would be to have up to 50 percent matching reimbursement of “qualified project expenses” with a $25,000 cap per approved project. There would also be a cap of $100,000 per entity or service provider per fiscal year, which is also dependent on allocations approved by commissioners.
In pulling definitions from the state, Beaver said unserved would be defined as someone with no access to fixed internet connection with speeds of 10 megabits per second downloads and one megabit per second uploads. Underserved would be defined as not have access to a fixed internet connection of 25 megabits per second for downloads and three megabits per second for uploads from three or more providers.
“That would be the framework,” she said.
Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, took issue with the requirement of three or more providers, and said no one in the community has three or more providers.
“We’re all underserved then,” he said.
Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, suggested bumping the number down to two options as the requirement, something Rothschild went along with.
“Maybe two, certainly not three,” Rothschild added.
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In November, commissioners discussed other ways of pushing broadband in Carroll, with topics ranging from getting fiber to business parks to laying conduit in municipalities during streetscape projects.