County Seeking More Detailed Proposals On Broadband

SNOW HILL – County officials want more details from potential broadband providers before they decide to invest in expanding rural internet access.

After hearing from representatives of Talkie Communications and Choptank Fiber last month, the Worcester County Commissioners discussed broadband options this week. They agreed to seek detailed proposals from each of the companies before moving forward.

“We need to do this as fast as possible but I’m not going to say we’re going to go with this one or this one today until they give us a true proposal…,” Commissioner Jim Bunting said. “We need a proposal we can really look at and know the numbers are set.”

After selecting Talkie as its broadband partner last fall, the commissioners heard presentations from both Talkie and Choptank Fiber last month. Both companies are interested in providing high speed internet to the roughly 6,400 unserved homes in Worcester County.

Commissioners this week questioned the specifics of each company’s plan, as the presentations included different costs — $37 million for Choptank and $51 million for Talkie — as well as types of infrastructure. They also brought up potential funding sources, as some commissioners want to use funding the county is expected to get through the American Rescue Plan while others want to bond the multi-million-dollar cost.

Bunting advocated for using some of the $10 million in federal funding the county is anticipating.

“In my opinion it’s one of the best uses we could use it for,” he said.

Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said he preferred bonding whatever the county was spending on broadband.

“’Although I support broadband for the entire county I’m not as gung ho as my comrades here,” he said.

Mitrecic said that if the cost was broken down, even if every one of the 6,400 homes that didn’t have broadband signed up, that would still cost $5,781 each with Choptank or $7,968.75 with Talkie. The possibility of the companies paying the county back for an upfront investment, something both mentioned, would take years and years, he said. He added that the lifespan of each system also had to be considered.

“I think we need to look at this real hard and get some real hard numbers,” he said.

Commissioner Josh Nordstrom said he would be willing to consider bonding the project or using grant money but that he did want to see broadband access expanded. He said it was something his constituents wanted to see happen.

“Now’s the time for action…,” he said. “We want to get this moving.”

County staff said they would reach out to both companies to have them provide more detailed information so that each proposal could be compared side by side.

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.