Wicomico Officials Provide Update On Broadband Expansion

SALISBURY – A discussion on Wicomico’s efforts to expand broadband access highlighted a recent meeting with county officials.

Last month, Acting County Executive John Psota and Information Technology Director John Monar met with members of the Wicomico County Council to provide an update on broadband.

“The county continues to maintain and encourage an open line of communication with broadband internet service providers, or ISPs, and all the major players in our region, collecting and providing up-to-date information,” Monar said. “The goal of these efforts is to assist ISPs in identifying expansion projects within the county that reach the most populated, unserved areas.”

Monar noted that broadband has existed in Wicomico County for two decades. In recent years, however, there have been three major expansion projects funded by the state and constructed by the Maryland Broadband Cooperative.

“These three middle-mile projects allow for ISPs to reached unserved areas in Heborn, Quantico and Tyaskin,” he said.

Monar noted the county continues to monitor grant funding opportunities for broadband expansion.

Late last year, for example, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) awarded Maryland internet provider Talkie Communications millions of dollars to build fiber optic broadband networks throughout the state. That grant, Monar said, includes more than 80 buildouts to unserved areas of Wicomico County.

“At some point, there will be a second round of funding released by the FCC that is anticipated to assist network buildout in partially unserved areas,” he told council members. “Planning, engineering and constructing fiber optic broadband internet service networks is an expensive and time-consuming endeavor. It’s important that we recognize that these buildouts are long-term projects.”

Monar said Wicomico County also has plans to participate in listening sessions hosted by the Maryland Office of Statewide Broadband later this summer. He said those sessions are being created to gather input from local jurisdictions and internet providers on how to structure grant programs.

“The county plans to be an active participant in these listening sessions,” he said. “The state will also be constructing a wireless education network for student use on the Eastern Shore, covering areas that currently lack broadband using state-of-the-art wireless technology.”

Officials told the council broadband is a vital component for education, health care and economic development in Wicomico. They noted the county was exploring all grant funding programs and expansion projects.

“We are taking a fiscally responsible and common-sense approach with our efforts,” Monar said.

Councilman John Cannon applauded the administration for its efforts. However, he questioned the role the county would play in future broadband expansion projects.

“How is the county going to deal with these grants, and the contracts with the ISPs?” he said. “… we need a better understanding of what council’s role is, funding and infrastructure wise.”

Monar noted those questions would be addressed during the state’s listening sessions this summer. He noted some counties want to be involved in broadband, while others leave it to private entities.

“We’ll be a participant in that and see what changes come about,” he said.

Psota agreed.

“Broadband is a high priority for my administration, and we’re making sure we’re doing it smartly, and responsibly for the taxpayers …,” he said. “We want to make sure we do it right.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.