In today’s world, internet connectivity is no longer a luxury—it is a necessity. Access to affordable internet, broadband, wireless, and cellular services is an essential component of a county’s economic development and the socio-economic advancements of its residents.
Residents benefit from increased economic growth, improved labor market access and outcomes, access to better health care, enhanced civic participation, enriched education opportunities, improved quality of life, and overall competitive and vibrant communities.
During his closing address at the 2019 MACo Summer Conference, Governor Larry Hogan announced that his administration will provide $9.9 million to fund the first wave of a five-year plan to expand reliable, affordable internet access to underserved areas.
“Maryland is ranked number one in America for having the fastest internet and we have been working hard to provide high-speed internet to every county in the state,” Governor Hogan said. “Today I’m announcing that we will provide an additional $10 million this year as the first installment of a five-year $100 million initiative that will finally provide another 225,000 Marylanders in rural communities with access to reliable and affordable high-speed internet services.”
MACo has consistently supported legislation that encourages new and innovative solutions in order to provide high-speed internet access for all Marylanders.
According to a press release:
Created by executive order in 2017, the Office of Rural Broadband, housed in the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, was established to expand broadband capabilities statewide in underserved, rural areas of Maryland.
The plan builds upon earlier efforts made by the Office of Rural Broadband, which successfully implemented the following projects:
- Provided a loan and refinanced $17 million of the City of Westminster’s debt through the Local Government Infrastructure Financing Program for Westminster’s newly completed fiber network. This financing support will ensure that the city’s network is sustainable and will allow for the completion of customer installations over the next three years.
- Awarded grants of up to $100,000 each for 11 small broadband pilot projects in five counties.
- Awarded grants of up to $60,000 each to six counties for broadband feasibility studies. The studies will identify areas lacking broadband facilities, provide guidance for planning and construction, and determine present cost estimates.
- Hosted a conference in the summer of 2018 for county information technology and economic development officials to determine the needs and status of each county’s broadband expansion efforts. Eighteen counties attended the conference, where best practices developed in relation to local efforts were presented.
- Provided technical assistance and application preparation funding with grants of up to $200,000 for the upcoming USDA ReConnect broadband funding program. The office worked with two applicants, Easton Utilities on behalf of Talbot County and Armstrong Communications on behalf of Harford and Cecil Counties. If the applicants are selected by USDA, they could be eligible for federal grant awards up to $25 million each.
The 2019 MACo Summer Conference – “Winds of Change” on August 14-17 focused on the changes being seen at every level of government and constituent services and how counties are harnessing that momentum for the good of all Marylanders.