SNOW HILL – County officials want a communications company to put together a proposal to bring high speed internet to the entire county in three years.
Following a presentation from Talkie Communications on Tuesday, the Worcester County Commissioners asked the company for a proposal on what it would take to bring fiber internet to the entire county.
“I’m serious about this,” Commissioner Jim Bunting said. “This is a major issue in my district. We’re getting a lot of heat.”
Representatives from Talkie Communications, the internet provider the county agreed to partner with in its efforts to expand rural access to broadband, met with the commissioners Tuesday. Andrew DeMattia, CEO of Talkie, and Andre DeMattia, COO of Talkie, told the commissioners the company had secured $3 million in grant funding to use over 10 years.
“As soon as those grants are released we’d like to start building out Worcester County,” Andre DeMattia said, adding the company planned to start in the south and work its way north.
He acknowledged, however, that $3 million wouldn’t take the county too far, as a 2020 broadband study indicated it would take $52 million to bring fiber to the county.
“It’s going to take a long time to do the entire county,” he said, adding Talkie was looking for other grants and hoped to have the county done in six years.
Bunting said the county couldn’t wait six years.
“With additional funding we could go faster,” Andre DeMattia said.
Commissioner Chip Bertino agreed something needed to be done quickly and asked if Talkie could put together a proposal on what it would take to bring fiber to the entire county in three years.
“We’re already behind the eight ball by many years,” he said.
When Andre DeMattia said it could be done, Bertino suggested the company be added to the April 6 meeting agenda to present information on the potential timeline and costs. Bertino said fiber was no different than any other infrastructure maintained by the county and a presentation regarding the process and cost would give the county a better idea of what it would take to make broadband a reality for rural residents.
“This is what our community needs,” he said. “Taxpayer money for something like this could be justified.”
Commissioner Ted Elder asked why fiber was a better internet solution for the county than wireless. Andrew DeMattia said the grant could only be used for fiber and wireless was better in high density areas. Wireless is also impacted by factors such as weather and tree coverage.
“For rural deployment, that type of internet, it’s just not feasible,” he said.
He added wireless could be used as a stopgap but that in the long-term fiber would be a better solution.
Commissioner Joe Mitrecic pointed out based on the county’s broadband study, it would take roughly $49 million to install fiber throughout the county. Andre DeMattia agreed it was a good rough estimate.
Bunting stressed the county needed to do something, as there were areas in various districts where residents had no access.
“It can be done,” Andrew DeMattia said. “It’s all about the finances.”
Brian Jones, the county’s IT director, said the pandemic had highlighted the county’s connection problems.
“Since the pandemic hit, people that were just getting by are no longer getting by,” he said. “It’s becoming a major issue.”
He also advised the commissioners to pursue fiber rather than wireless solutions, which he said would not deliver the desired internet speed.