Officials Continue Broadband Talks

SNOW HILL – County officials agreed to hold a work session later this month to discuss how to use federal funds to expand broadband access.

The Worcester County Commissioners voted unanimously this week to schedule a work session later this month to talk about how to spend the county’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. Though they’ve already indicated they would use some of the funds to extend sewer service to Lewis Road and the rest to focus on expanding broadband and providing financial support to local fire companies, they haven’t finalized details. Broadband has been and continues to be a priority for the commissioners.

“Whatever it takes I think we need to push this forward,” Commissioner Ted Elder said.

Talkie Communications, the company currently working with grant funds to install broadband in Worcester County, presented the commissioners with a request for a $5 million loan this week. The commissioners said they weren’t against providing a loan but wanted more information and to discuss the issue further. When presented a few minutes later with Chief Administrative Officer Weston Young’s recommendations regarding the first of the county’s two ARPA funding allocations — roughly $5 million — the commissioners said they wanted to talk about the federal funding and a potential loan to Talkie Communications in a work session.

Young said that while the commissioners decided in July to use ARPA money to expand broadband access and support volunteer fire companies, actual spending breakdowns hadn’t been discussed.

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“The intention was to lay out where we stood now,” he said.

According to Young, the fire companies have requested $60,000 for mental health resiliency training for all the county’s public safety personnel. The Maryland Broadband Cooperative has also requested $820,000 in funding.

“We’d recommend that gets funded …,” Young said. “That benefits every internet service provider as well as our emergency communications throughout the county.”

Commissioner Josh Nordstrom made a motion to schedule a work session to allow for more ARPA discussion and consideration of the loan proposed by Talkie Communications. Commissioner Chip Bertino said he wanted to know more about the request from Maryland Broadband Cooperative. The commissioners agreed to schedule a work session for Sept. 21.

Though the loan requested by Talkie was not approved at Tuesday’s meeting, the commissioners did agree to lease the company space at the county’s old liquor warehouse. The company will use the space, which is being leased for $2,000 a month, primarily for storage.

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.