Tag: "maryland"

Posted July 19, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

In the heart of Maryland's Eastern Shore – a place Forbes Magazine considers one of the “Top 5 Coolest Towns to Buy A Vacation Home” – a fiber-to-the-home project is making the region an even cooler place to live.

Building on its historical allure and 600 miles of Chesapeake Bay waterfront views, state, county and local utility officials are making a multimillion-dollar investment to transform Talbot County’s half dozen towns (and a handful of other unincorporated communities) 40 miles east of Annapolis into a far more attractive place to live, work, and play. To do that, they are relying on Easton Utilities, the county’s seat long-standing municipal utility, to expand high-speed Internet access into the most rural reaches of the region.

In March, the Talbot County Council unanimously approved allocating $1.75 million of its American Rescue Plan Act funds to help bring fiber Internet connectivity to the hardest-to-reach parts of the county. That funding comes on the heels of Easton Utilities being awarded federal and state grant funds totaling $26 million, with the bulk of that going toward a fiber network expansion project known as Connect Talbot, while a portion is being used to upgrade its existing hybrid fiber-coax system.

With construction crews now working to extend Easton Utilities fiber backbone further out into the county, the utilities’ subsidiary – Easton Velocity – is already offering service to over 100 new subscribers.

When we checked in with Easton Utilities this week, Marketing and Communications Manager Kelly Simonsen told us the expansion project will ultimately pass over 3,600 premises and cover 100 percent of Talbot County’s unserved areas. That work is expected to be complete sometime in 2026.

Municipal Utility Well Positioned to Bridge County’s Digital Divide

It makes sense...

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Posted March 8, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio

This week, we bring you a special field report from Maryland-based radio and podcast producer Matt Purdy. Through interviews with citizens, digital equity advocates, and the city's new Director of Broadband and Digital Equity, Purdy documents the connectivity struggles that have persisted in Baltimore's historically marginalized neighborhoods for decades.

Those challenges have only become more pronounced with the pandemic, prompting local officials to begin making moves in the direction of something we've not yet seen in a community the size of Baltimore: building a city-owned, open access fiber network.

This is a great story, so we won't give anything else a way. Listen below, or here.

Posted March 1, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

The Dover Bridge is the span of infrastructure that crosses the Choptank River into Maryland’s Eastern Shore. But it’s the Choptank Electric Cooperative that’s building a bridge across the digital divide in the rural reaches of the region.

Building on the fiber backbone that connects the co-op's smart grid, the member-owned cooperative began construction of a fiber-to-the-home network (FTTH) last year that will reach all 54,000 of its members spread out across nine counties. Now subscribers are being lit up for service as the co-op continues to extend the network.

Thanks to the passage of the “Rural Broadband for the Eastern Shore Act” in May of 2020, it paved the way for the co-op to create a wholly-owned subsidiary known as Choptank Fiber. Moving quickly, in April of 2021, just two months after network construction began, Sherry Hollingsworth – whose grandfather was the first to get electricity through the co-op back in 1939 – became the first member to get service.

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony outside her home in Denton, a town in Caroline County a little over an hour's drive from the nation's capital, Hollingsworth told The Star Democrat she was “honored” to be Choptank Fiber’s first subscriber because, like many households in and around the Eastern Shore, “we have struggled with our personal service and our business service for many, many years.”

The meaning of the moment was neatly summarized by Jeff Rathell, the co-op’s Chairman of the Board of Directors: 

We have been so successful over the years at delivering electric service to rural residents … Today, broadband service and Internet access have become almost as important as electric service was over 80 years ago. I am pleased that we have found a way to deliver this life-changing service to our...

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Posted October 19, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

With American Rescue Plan funds flowing into state government coffers, about a third of the nation’s 50 states have announced what portion of their Rescue Plan dollars are being devoted to expanding access to high-speed Internet connectivity.

The federal legislation included $350 billion for states to spend on water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure, though everything we have seen suggests that the vast majority of that will not go to broadband. There is also another $10 billion pot of rescue plan funds, called the Capital Projects Fund, that mostly must be used to expand access to broadband.

Laboratories of Broadband-ification 

As expected, each state is taking their own approach. California is making a gigantic investment in middle-mile infrastructure and support for local Internet solutions while Maryland is making one of the biggest investments in municipal broadband of any other state in the nation. And although Colorado does not prioritize community-driven initiatives, state lawmakers there have earmarked $20 million for Colorado’s two federally-recognized Indian tribes to deploy broadband infrastructure with another $15 million devoted to boosting telehealth services in the state.     

Undoubtedly, individual states’ funding priorities vary. Some states may be relying on previously allocated federal investments to boost broadband initiatives and/or have been persuaded the private sector alone will suffice in solving its connectivity challenges. And in some states, such as Illinois, Minnesota, and Maine, lawmakers have prioritized using state funds to support broadband expansion efforts while other states may be waiting on the infrastructure bill now making its way through Congress before making major broadband funding decisions.

As of this writing, 17 states have earmarked a portion of their Rescue Plan money (totaling about $7.6 billion) to address the digital divide within their borders. Those states are Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Missouri, Virginia, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

A handful of those states are making major investments to boost broadband with an emphasis on community-driven solutions where local governments, public entities, and non-profit organizations can...

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Posted June 30, 2021 by Jericho Casper

ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative Director Christopher Mitchell recently joined Drew Clark, Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast, for a live discussion centered on the “Investment Implications of a Federal Broadband Infrastructure Bill.”

During the discussion, Christopher breaks down the various pots of money the federal government has dedicated to expanding Internet infrastructure and access to date. He points to the shortcomings of current federal programs, among which are provisions that set aside funds in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for the Emergency Broadband Benefit and the Emergency Connectivity Fund going to short-term, incumbent-friendly solutions.

Christopher noted that while the Emergency Broadband Benefit has helped income eligible households by providing $50 to $75 a month subsidies for home Internet subscriptions, it leaves uncertain what the future holds for these communities when the funds run out. Similarly, he points to restrictions placed on the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which limit the ability of schools and libraries to use the funds to build their own networks. Throughout the discussion, Chris maintains that public dollars should be spent on more sustainable, long-term solutions. 

Christopher and Drew also discuss what states are planning to do with the windfall from the federal government by way of the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund. Each state is receiving a minimum of $100 million for broadband projects enabling remote work, education, and health monitoring. Mitchell highlights the plans Maryland and California developed to use the incoming federal funds as leading examples in contrast to Idaho which is set to funnel the money entirely to private...

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Posted May 24, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

With $3.9 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act on its way to Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan and state legislative leaders have agreed to seize the moment, allocating $300 million of federal COVID-19 relief funds to expand broadband infrastructure and digital inclusion initiatives across the state.

The biggest bulk of the money – $97 million – will go towards funding the building of physical infrastructure with $45 million earmarked specifically for municipal broadband grants.

“The question isn’t how much it’ll cost to bridge the digital divide, the question is how much will it cost if we don’t act right now,” State Senate President Bill Ferguson said at a press conference when the funding was announced.

The bipartisan budget agreement was hailed by Gov. Hogan, a Republican, as an example for the nation demonstrating how “people from different parties can still come together, that we can put the people’s priorities first, and that we can deliver real, bipartisan, common sense solutions to the serious problems that face us.”

One “serious problem” in Maryland, according to a recent Abell Foundation report, is that 23 percent of Maryland households (520,000) do not have a wireline home Internet connection, 40 percent (or 206,000) of which are Black households.

Much of that comes from a lack of affordability and other barriers to adoption. To deal with those challenges, the budget agreement also includes $45 million to subsidize monthly Internet service costs for qualifying families and $30 million to pay for Internet-connected devices for financially eligible households. It also includes an additional $4 million for a new University System of Maryland program to support training and developing curriculum to bridge the digital divide as well as $2 million for digital navigator programs.

Here is an itemized breakdown of...

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Posted April 20, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

Maryland plans to funnel American Rescue Plan Act funding towards community broadband 

Vermont Governor bolsters House plan backing Communications Union Districts 

A national movement to address digital inclusion ignites

See the bottom of this post for related job openings

 

State Scene

Maryland

Maryland State Governor Larry Hogan made digital equity and literacy a top priority of the state when he signed H.B. 97, the Digital Connectivity Act, into law on April 13. The new law establishes the Office of Statewide Broadband (OSB) within the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development to create a plan to get all Marylanders connected to affordable, high-speed Internet by 2026. The OSB will also assist in administering $300 million for digital equity initiatives out of the $3.9 billion Maryland received in American Rescue Plan funds. 

The $300 million allocation will be broken down into separate pots of money to address physical infrastructure, affordability, and adoption: $45 million will be for grants that support and expand municipal broadband networks; $75 million for affordability initiatives to subsidize the cost of monthly service fees and devices for eligible residents who are subscribers to private Internet Service Providers (ISPs); and $150 million dedicated to deploy broadband infrastructure and expand connectivity in both urban and rural areas. In addition, $10 million is earmarked for local government and community-based solutions, and $6 million will support adoption initiatives, including $4 million for a new division under the University System of Maryland to develop curriculum on digital literacy and addressing the broadband gap.

Maryland had a state rural broadband office prior to the creation of the new OSB office. The rural broadband office offers support to Maryland’s rural regions attempting to access federal funding opportunities. The new OSB will be dedicated to addressing barriers that address the connectivity challenges Maryland’s suburban and metro residents...

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Posted February 19, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Five electric cooperatives in three states have joined forces to form a new broadband co-op with a mission to bring high-speed Internet service to the unserved rural parts of Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.

The formation of the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Broadband Cooperatives (VMDABC) was announced at the start of the new year, harkening back 76 years ago when those same three states formed the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives (VMDAEC) to bring electricity to the rural areas in those states.

“This association is the first of its kind in the nation,” said VMDABC Board Chairman Casey Logan, CEO of the Waverly, Va.-based Prince George Electric Cooperative, and its broadband subsidiary, RURALBAND.

“This is truly a historic day,” Logan said when the tri-state association was announced in January. “Much like the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives was created 76 years ago during the formative years of rural electrification, today’s formal organization of a broadband association will improve the quality of life for our members.”

The VMDABC will begin its work with five founding “Class A members,” each of which are in various stages of building Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks.

In addition to Prince George Electric Cooperative, the four other founding Class A members are the BARC Electric Cooperative, based in Millboro, Va., and its subsidiary, BARC Connects; the Arrington, Va.-based Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, and its subsidiary, Firefly Fiber Broadband; the Choptank Electric Cooperative in Denton, Md., and its subsidiary, Choptank Fiber LLC; and the Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative, based in Chase City, Va., and its subsidiary, EMPOWER Broadband. Collectively, they provide electric service to 135,000 members.

Envisioning a Path Forward

Based on the structure of the electric cooperative association, VMDABC will offer various classes of membership, including co-op...

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Posted February 17, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio

The Expanding Potential in Communities (EPIC) Grant deadline funded by Truist Bank and administered by the Internet Society has been extended by two weeks from its original deadline of February 19 in the wake of the weather hammering eligible areas over the last few days. There's nothing like a severe winter event that knocks power out for millions to break up the monotony of a raging pandemic. 

Grant applications are now due March 5th by 11:59pm. 

Read our original story about the grant program below:

A new grant program funded by Truist Bank's philanthropic initiative and administered by the Internet Society will disburse $1 million in funds to seven community broadband projects over the next year and a half. The Expanding Potential in Communities (EPIC) Grant program is currently soliciting applications, with grants to be disbursed to eligible communities across the southeast United States, including Washington D.C. and Texas, ranging from $125,000-180,000. The program is aimed at kickstarting Covid 19 relief efforts but also providing essential, locally owned broadband infrastructure to unserved and underserved communities.

From the grant program website:

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the importance of broadband Internet connectivity into focus as work, school, healthcare, and more shift online. Internet connectivity is more important than ever in keeping our lives moving . . . The $1 million Expanding Potential in Communities (EPIC) Grant program supports broadband initiatives in the southeastern United States . . . As the administrating partner, the Internet Society will support local broadband expansion by funding complementary Internet connectivity solutions to help alleviate disparities in education, employment, and social welfare that are exacerbated by lack of access to broadband.

See eligibility requirements below:

  • Timeframe – project must show tangible results within a year of receiving funding. Funding will occur in two stages between April and December 2021.
  • Location – project must be completed in one of the following states: North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Virginia, Washington DC, South Carolina, Texas, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia,...
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Posted January 28, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio

A new grant program funded by Truist Bank's philanthropic initiative and administered by the Internet Society will disburse $1 million in funds to seven community broadband projects over the next year and a half. The Expanding Potential in Communities (EPIC) Grant program is currently soliciting applications, with grants to be disbursed to eligible communities across the southeast United States, including Washington D.C. and Texas, ranging from $125,000-180,000. The program is aimed at kickstarting Covid 19 relief efforts but also providing essential, locally owned broadband infrastructure to unserved and underserved communities.

From the grant program website:

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the importance of broadband Internet connectivity into focus as work, school, healthcare, and more shift online. Internet connectivity is more important than ever in keeping our lives moving . . . The $1 million Expanding Potential in Communities (EPIC) Grant program supports broadband initiatives in the southeastern United States . . . As the administrating partner, the Internet Society will support local broadband expansion by funding complementary Internet connectivity solutions to help alleviate disparities in education, employment, and social welfare that are exacerbated by lack of access to broadband.

See eligibility requirements below:

  • Timeframe – project must show tangible results within a year of receiving funding. Funding will occur in two stages between April and December 2021.
  • Location – project must be completed in one of the following states: North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Virginia, Washington DC, South Carolina, Texas, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Delaware, Maryland.
  • Bandwidth – project must provide a minimum broadband threshold for deployment.
  • Applicant must have an official bank account in their name (based on their legal registration) in order to be eligible for a grant.

In addition, projects will be chosen based on their ability to demonstrate community support with participation from local leaders, a minimum bandwidth requirement, finance skills, an assessment of local ordinances and assets friendly to quick deployment, the participation of local private industry partners, and a summary of the...

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