CENTREVILLE — Queen Anne’s County has joined the pool of Maryland jurisdictions competing for a grant designed to construct new broadband networks in unserved areas, according to a plan approved by the county commissioners Nov. 23.
According to county information technology manager Megan DelGaudio, who is a liaison to the QA Broadband Advisory Council, internet service providers Choptank Fiber, Atlantic Broadband, ThinkBig Networks and Talkie Communications will be participating with Queen Anne’s in the grant opportunity.
If approved and implemented, DelGaudio estimated that 90 percent of the county’s land area would receive service, though exact figures are “hard to predict.”
“This brings us into the 21st century and beyond,” Commissioner Jack Wilson said during the meeting. “It’s huge.”
The board’s decision, based on the recommendations of the advisory council, enters Queen Anne’s into the Connect Maryland – FY22 Network Infrastructure Grant Program.
Moderated through the Maryland Office of Statewide Broadband and funded by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the program offers up to 90 percent of the construction costs associated with installing new broadband networks.
Local jurisdictions are expected to cover the remaining portion of the cost.
Out of a total $97.6 million available through the program, Queen Anne’s County is applying for up to $12.7 million in infrastructure funding from the state, with an expected contribution of $623,280.74.
“It’s a lot of money coming from the state with a small contribution from the county,” DelGaudio said.
Issues related to reliable internet service have plagued the rural, unpopulated areas of the county for years. A broadband strategic plan compiled in June 2020 found an estimated 4,000 unserved premises throughout Queen Anne’s County — a technological vulnerability compromised by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I don’t ever want to see Queen Anne’s County get into where we are and were during the pandemic, when we had kids that couldn’t get online to go to school (and) we had business owners who couldn’t do their businesses,” Wilson said, hoping for more transparency between the county and ISPs.
Wilson “challenged” the providers to develop a 10-year road map on how they’ll “systematically maintain these systems,” leaving the door open for county intervention and collaboration.