Advertisement

County commissioners talk future of broadband, economic development in Carroll County

Carroll’s county commissioners discussed broadband on Thursday.

The discussion covered topics ranging from getting fiber to business parks to laying conduit in municipalities during streetscape projects, with a decision on what steps should be made likely to come this Thursday.

Advertisement

During the last budget session, the Board of County Commissioners allocated $1 million for the expansion of the fiber network in Carroll County, Mark Ripper, chief information officer for the county’s technology services, said. The county created a committee to look at how to use that money effectively, he said.

The commissioners gave direction to the committee Thursday, asking it to consider long-term planning for the project and doing the work in phases. Commissioners also asked for prioritization of business parks, and for more details about a possible service provider grant program.

Ripper laid out a number of directions, though focused on three major ones: the business parks, a possible service-provider grant program and construction of conduit in municipalities.

The option commissioners discussed the most on Thursday was running fiber to business parks in the county to help boost economic development. The committee laid out a handful of business parks including the Eldersburg Business Center, Liberty Exchange, Twin Arch Industrial Park and the Warfield Complex, as possible places to bring fiber network to.

Denise Beaver, deputy director of the Carroll County Department of Economic Development, said the committee sent a request to park owners and laid out the option of Carroll broadband that would provide redundant services and also meet currently unmet needs.

“What we learned was that we didn’t get any real takers,” she said. “They haven’t heard a lot from their tenants.”

A lot of places already have internet through Comcast and Verizon in place, although Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, pointed out, that doesn’t always mean there’s fast internet. Some places only have DSL, he said.

“Why are we making it sound like we don’t have a need for this,” he said. “The fact is they don’t want to invest in infrastructure.”

Ripper said the committee wasn’t recommending whether to put the fiber in, but rather relaying the data it collected.

But, Howard said, that’s not the right approach. What people need to see is business parks that are connected, and have roads and water and fiber, he said. And then, the county can market them.

“The reason we allocated this money was to drive economic development,” he added.

Howard said he hears from a lot of people who say that they want to have options, he said.

Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, was in agreement, and also said he thought the county should be pushing harder, and possibly mandating, that any new business park being built has to lay conduit to make sure fiber can be used. Conduit is the piping underground that creates the path and allows fiber strands to be laid.

“If we put it in, people will come to use it,” he said. “You don’t know what you can do with it until you have it. If they’re not using it now, they don’t know.”

Advertisement

Ripper talked about maybe doing the projects in phases, first laying the conduit and later laying the fiber.

A second concept commissioners spent part of the meeting discussing was laying conduit in the ground in municipalities while streetscape projects are ongoing.

It’s cheaper to put conduit in the ground when construction is taking place, rather than after it’s done, Ripper said in a phone interview. It costs about $1.50 per foot if the ground is already open, compared to $10 per foot to do it separate of the streetscape, he added.

Commissioners also discussed a possible grant program. This program, Ripper said in the phone interview, would be for companies that provide service that costs more than the normal rate of investment. Ripper also mentioned doing a request for proposal (RFP) to expand the network, using a broadband service area map and working with the State of Maryland Rural Broadband Task Force.

In a phone interview, Howard reiterated the importance of expanding broadband in the county to increase economic development possibilities. The county has business parks bringing economic growth to certain areas, he said, and it makes sense to make sure those areas have the amenities they need.

Laying conduit and fiber is a way to be prepared for the future as technology changes, he added.

“When technology is a lot more advanced … I think we’re going to be glad that we have that as the access,” Howard said.

And, he said, the county needs moderate growth, especially in its economic base, to continue to support services without raising taxes. Expanding fiber is important to Carroll’s future, Howard added.

“If we have more needs for services, that money’s got to come from somewhere,” he said, adding that continued economic growth can help finance the rising cost of education and maintaining infrastructure. “That’s the only way we’re going to be able to keep pace.”

Advertisement
Advertisement