Wicomico Partners With Provider For Broadband Funding

SALISBURY – Officials say a partnership between Wicomico County and an internet service provider is expected to help expand broadband access to unserved areas.

In a meeting of the Wicomico County Council last week, Acting County Executive John Psota announced a non-legally binding partnership with Talkie Communications, a Chestertown-based internet service provider, to secure state grant funding for broadband infrastructure projects.

Psota noted the partnership, selected through a request for proposal (RFP) process, has allowed Talkie to apply for $20 million in state grant funding with a letter of support from the county.

“The scope of work dealt specifically with the ability of a vendor to deliver broadband internet access to potential rural customers in areas we identified as being unserved …,” he told council members. “A partnership with a local jurisdiction identified in the letter of support is a requirement for a vendor who is applying for this latest state broadband grant.”

John Monar, Wicomico County’s information technology director, said over the past year the county had mapped roughly 2,100 properties with no wired broadband internet access. He said state grant funding would allow Talkie to complete expansion projects in those areas.

“Talkie will use FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Grant they were awarded to supplement many fiber projects in Wicomico County and as part of the 10% match requirement for infrastructure grants,” he explained. “Grant funding awards would allow for more than 300 miles of fiberoptic-to-the-premise (FTTP) broadband internet service to be made available to more than 2,100 primary unserved Wicomico County structures.”

When asked if the county would need to provide matching funds for any grant awards, Psota said it didn’t.

“This is a non-legally binding offer with no Wicomico County matching funds,” he said. “No funding request is being made by the executive to the council for this state grant, and there is no contracting for services.”

During the RFP process, Monar said the county received responses from Bloosurf, Choptank Fiber, Mediacom, Simple Fiber and Talkie Communications. Officials noted Talkie was selected based on its ability to expand broadband service to the most households, among other things.

Monar added that the proposed areas for broadband expansion include Cross Road, Athol, Royal Oak Road, Whitehaven, Allen, Whiton, Mt. Pleasant, Powellville/Mt. Hermon Road, North Pittsville and South Fruitland.

When asked if Talkie had completed any projects in Wicomico, Monar said they hadn’t. He noted, however, that they had completed buildouts in Queen Anne’s, Kent and Worcester counties.

“They do not have any in Wicomico so far,” he said. “Their first one will be the Deer Creek buildout on the east side of the county.”

After further discussion, the council agreed to continue its talks at a future work session.

“We are committed to and will continue to explore all viable and economically feasible options,” Psota told council members. “We acknowledge that this utility is critical to education, telehealth and economic development.”

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.