Grant Expected To Improve Internet Connectivity in Local Municipalities

Grant Expected To Improve Internet Connectivity in Local Municipalities
Town officials are exploring the idea of charging businesses in the Main Street area a higher business license fee than those located elsewhere in town. Photo by Chris Parypa

BERLIN– Downtown businesses could see improved internet connectivity thanks to a state grant.

Municipal officials this week discussed the $3.2 million Worcester County received through the Rural Maryland funds being dispersed by the Tri-County Council of the Lower Eastern Shore. While there was some confusion regarding the town’s intentions, Mayor Zack Tyndall said Berlin was definitely interested in receiving some of the money Worcester County has allocated for Main Street connectivity in Berlin, Snow Hill and Pocomoke.

“The Town of Berlin does want fiber optics and if the county’s willing to pay for it we’re willing to accept it,” Tyndall said.

At the close of Monday’s council meeting, Councilman Steve Green brought up Gov. Larry Hogan’s recent announcement of a $50 million Rural Maryland Economic Development Fund. The fund will be administered by five regional councils throughout the state—the Tri-County Council here—and is meant to boost economic development, stimulate investment and create jobs in rural regions. Worcester County is set to receive $3.2 million and the county commissioners agreed last fall that certain projects—including downtown connectivity—would receive funds. The commissioners want to provide sustained fiber optic service to Main Street areas in Berlin, Snow Hill and Pocomoke so businesses in Worcester County’s small towns have the same reliable, fast internet as businesses in major cities.

Green said he’d heard the funding would bring fiber to local towns and wanted to know more about the process.

Tyndall told the council he communicated regularly with Worcester County Chief Administrative Officer Weston Young and that the county was working with someone in Salisbury on the project.

“That’s all I know at this time but when I have more information I’ll share that with you,” he said.

Green said faster internet for downtown businesses would be great news for the town.

“I think there are high speed accessibility issues downtown so I’m looking forward to hearing more about that,” he said.

Resident Carol Rose questioned Tyndall’s update, as she said she’d heard Tyndall was only interested in Berlin receiving grant funding if the town could own the fiber. She said she was concerned other towns would receive Berlin’s share of the funding if that was the case.

“The Town of Berlin has never taken a position we don’t want the funding for fiberoptic,” Tyndall said. “I can’t speak to your conversation but I can tell you that Weston and I talk frequently and that’s not factual.”

Tyndall stressed that the town was interested in being involved in the project.

“The position of the town is if you’re going to pay for it we want it,” Tyndall said.

When contacted after the meeting, Young said the grant funding had only just been awarded and the project was in its early stages.

“While most of the grant money available for broadband is for the unserved or underserved communities, we found an opportunity to utilize these funds for the downtown businesses of Berlin, Pocomoke, and Snow Hill,” Young said. “We are very early in the process and will work with each town to try to reach as many businesses as possible with the limited funding available, as well as request help with the right-of-way and permitting needs to complete this project. In the event a town does not want to fully participate in this grant, we will use the monies for the other towns. The mayor and council of Berlin have made it clear they wish to participate. This will be a great project that should be able to be expanded at a later date for residential benefit as well.”

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.