BERLIN – A large award of stimulus money, $115 million, will nearly finish the extension of broadband Internet service throughout Worcester County.
The stimulus fund grant to the Maryland Broadband Cooperative (MBC) will cover extending service to small communities under 10,000 in population that are unserved or underserved by broadband. The grant money is also meant for the “middle mile” or spine of the network.
“It is the backbone. It is the fiber. It’s the superhighway, if you will, while the last mile providers take the exits,” said MBC Chair Virgil Shockley.
The aim is to extend service into all corners of Worcester County, including rural areas, and to reduce the cost of access to an affordable level, $30 to $35 a month, Shockley said.
“We’ll build as much as we can build. We’ll serve an much as we can serve, to hook up as many people as we can,” Shockley said.
Although this grant will not allow the project to be entirely completed, the money should allow the work to be substantially finished.
“Eighty to ninety percent of Worcester County will end up probably being hooked up because of the grant,” said Shockley.
Hook-ups will be run from the backbone along Route 113 to schools, libraries, Atlantic General Hospital and other community hubs.
“By 2015, you won’t even recognize Worcester County,” Shockley said.
Shockley, who has been involved in bringing broadband to Worcester since 2003, famously comparing the county to a third world country, has the same aim.
“The goal is to be able to flip up a laptop like you flip up a cell phone and get access,” said Shockley. “The technology is there. We haven’t done it plain and simple. We haven’t put the effort, the money towards doing this.”
Worcester County needs broadband for its citizens and to attract businesses and create jobs.
“You’ve got to have it … it’s a small world,” said Shockley.
The expansion at Wallops Island spaceport is due in large part to the availability of broadband. The spaceport will add 50 to 100 jobs in the next year, according to Shockley.
“Then it’s going to explode,” Shockley said.
Broadband access will allow the county to diversify business and jobs available, Shockley said. Broadband will also allow new businesses to save money on expensive T1 lines, giving those concerns more time to succeed.
More details on the grant and how it will be used will be presented at the Oct. 5 County Commissioner meeting.
Broadband should have been done 10 years ago, according to Shockley, but the completion the broadband initiative is in sight.
“When I achieve that goal, I’ll gladly sit down, drink a beer, and put my feet up,” Shockley said.