A lot of money is about to be pumped into providing for the needed infrastructure to allow high-speed Internet access on most of the Eastern Shore.
While there’s no disputing state and federal governments often make poor choices on how to distribute public funds, this is certainly not one of those instances. As a matter of fact, this is an excellent use of state and federal funds as far as the shore goes and it comes as a bit of a surprise that it’s this much money this soon in what was expected to be a long-term process.
Last Monday was a good day for this effort. It was announced that $3.2 million in federal funding was earmarked for the Maryland Broadband Cooperative from a U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration grant. The money will largely be used to provide broadband access in towns like Pocomoke, Snow Hill, Berlin and Selbyville, Del. and points in between before meeting up with another phase of the project in Wicomico County. Later on, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley announced an advance of $2 million for the second phase of a rural broadband initiative to install high-speed cable from Salisbury to the Bay Bridge. The first phase connected NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility to Salisbury last month.
As difficult as it is to believe in today’s world, there are businesses, as well as residents and schools, functioning without broadband Internet access on the shore. It’s equally embarrassing as it is troubling, and it will never be known how many business opportunities have been lost as a result of it not being available in many areas of the shore already.
When this project is all completed and the entire shore is properly wired for technology, it’s the hope of many that more businesses will begin to consider the shore as a place to operate. The impact of that could trickle down far and wide, from the obvious in economics to the less evident in perhaps keeping the young and bright on the shore after they finish their schooling.
The idea of keeping local high school and college graduates on the shore employed in a field of their choice has long been a goal of local elected officials as well as parents. That will not happen overnight. The shore is still extremely limited as far as industry choices and pay scales, but this new broadband initiative is perhaps the biggest success story to date on that front and may make a huge difference.
The idea is provide the necessary infrastructure for them to be successful and prosper and the businesses will come eventually. With that will come a new labor pool and a steady growth in population and all segments on the shore. This sound philosophy has worked in many areas of the country, and there’s no reason to think it can’t happen here on the shore, a place people want to work, live and play.
It’s critical to make sure the shore keeps up with technology and is able to provide its communities – both residential and commercial – the opportunities to succeed. Due to its rural nature and the constant tussle for equitable funding, it will always be a struggle for counties like Worcester, but this broadband initiative, bolstered by the recent funding announcements, goes a long way toward making it much easier in the future.