Worcester Looks To Consultant For Broadband Study

SNOW HILL – County leaders agreed to move forward with finding a consultant to study Worcester County’s broadband needs.

On Wednesday, the Worcester County Commissioners voted unanimously to have staff develop a request for proposals (RFP) to issue in search of a consultant to review the county’s broadband needs.

“We really need to get this train started up, moving toward that goal,” Commissioner Ted Elder said.

At Elder’s request, Brian Jones, the county’s IT manager, provided the commissioners with a broadband update this week. Jones explained that as far as broadband internet service went, Worcester County had both unserved and underserved areas. He added that the Federal Communications Commission had in recent years changed the definition of broadband by raising the minimum download speed from four megabytes per second to 25 megabytes per second.

“This effectively triples the number of U.S. households without broadband access by its new definition,” Jones said.

He said he’d spoken to officials in Sussex County regarding the broadband project now underway there.

“Sussex issued an RFP to various wireless broadband companies in an effort to solicit as many interested companies as they could,” Jones said. “Sussex County ended up with five interested companies. In order to create interest for the broadband project, Sussex County budgeted $1 million to pay for these companies’ tower space rental fees and other incidentals such as permitting costs and electricity costs.”

He said that assistance was being provided only for the first year, after which county officials hoped the companies would stay in place. Jones said Sussex County leaders had opted not to sign any franchise agreements, which meant there was no monopoly.

“This has actually helped keep costs down,” he said.

Jones said that because the project was still in its first year, he recommended Worcester County watch its progress.

He told the commissioners that before Worcester could begin seeking to bring broadband to all residents, it needed a study to determine the areas and residents impacted. He believes the study should look at existing service, demand and potential usage levels. Jones says that type of consulting work should cost between $25,000 and $30,000.

In the meantime, Jones said he’d been in contact with Gov. Larry Hogan’s office regarding broadband several times. He said Hogan’s office was hoping to include funding in next year’s budget to assist counties in building broadband infrastructure.

“Without the data (from the study), we may not qualify for any financial assistance from the state,” Jones said.

The commissioners voted unanimously to move forward with developing an RFP to issue in search of a consultant to perform the study.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.