EASTON — Choptank Electric Cooperative representatives spoke at the Tuesday, Oct. 8, Talbot County Council meeting about Choptank’s initiatives and the lack of broadband service in rural areas.
Choptank has a desire to bring high speed, fiber internet service to homes, farms and rural businesses to attain the standard of connectivity in Maryland’s more urban areas. In Maryland, 36% of residents lack internet service that meets Federal Communications Commission (FCC) standards, and 22% of Talbot County residents do not have adequate internet broadband service.
In Talbot County, there are 7,496 meters on the Choptank electric grid. Choptank delivers electricity to 54,150 customers in nine counties on the Eastern Shore.
Choptank will be talking a bill to the Maryland General Assembly in January with hopes of bringing high speed, fiber internet service to local, rural areas.
“We believe the Eastern Shore Delegation will be sponsoring it as a delegation and we are trying to position it as a local bill addressing a local problem with a local answer,” Choptank Electric Cooperative Vice President of Government Affairs & Public Relations Valerie Connelly said
Connelly said it is important to bring high speed, fiber internet service because there are currently 11,834 businesses on the Eastern Shore. She discussed how broadband can benefit Telemedicine, by solving healthcare shortages. She said agriculture is critical to the Eastern Shore, and high speed internet to run modern equipment will improve yields while reducing nutrient use, helping Choptank Electric meet their Chesapeake Bay Restoration Goals.
Choptank said the high speed internet will enhance education opportunities with dual enrollment, complete homework, check grades and lunch accounts. The workforce development will be enhanced with features including online training and job search.
Choptank Electric Cooperative owns 6,290 miles of power lines with 650 miles of middle mile fiber serviced by 160 full-time employees. If authorized, they can leverage existing assets and staff to deliver service. If authorized, they can immediately seek federal grant funding that will be available to deliver last mile broadband service.
If authorized, Choptank can use their economy-of-scale to bring the most efficient and economically viable broadband service to their members. Member regulation will allow the customers/owners of Choptank to decide whether to run broadband fiber to all homes and businesses in rural areas. There is also an option to wait for one of the big companies to offer service once they reach the density of 12 homes per mile of wire, which according to them, is unlikely.
They can also use the equity in the not-for-profit cooperative they built to deliver the “last mile” infrastructure of broadband they need now. Finally, they can compete for their fair-share of $20 billion the FCC will distribute next year, with a preference for them to deliver broadband to rural areas.
During the meeting, Connelly said that Choptank Electric Cooperative is currently drafting a letter of support for Talbot County Council that is expected to be prepared by mid-November.
“I agree the identification of the problem is spot on because I heard the same thing all over the county, and this is one of the pressing issues of our day,” Talbot County Council Member Pete Lesher said. “Our solution of this is going to define our generation. Thank you for the role you are laying and facilitating, you are playing an important role in the resolution.”
Talbot County Council President Corey Pack shared the same sentiment as Lesher seeing the need for the utility. He is looking forward to receiving the letter of support.
“It is good that Choptank has seen that it is a need for that utility to be to the unserved and underserved community,” Pack said. “We are also working with Easton Utilities to look at the same thing because this council realizes that it is a utility and that being such a person to allow businesses for their home or to communicate from your home, you need the ability to do that. We will wait to hear back from you. Mr (Anthony) Kupersmith will look over any documentation you guys send to council.”
For more information, visit www.choptankelectric.coop.