CENTREVILLE — As Queen Anne’s County grapples with the logistics of broadband expansion, Choptank Electric tossed its hat in the ring of potential service providers during Tuesday, Aug. 27, county commission meeting.
Mike Malandro, president and CEO of Choptank Electric, Matthew Teffeau, manager of Government Relations, and Valerie Connelly, vice president of Government and Public Relations for the company, discussed how the co-op could provide broadband service to underserved areas of the county at a competitive price.
“We already serve 17 to 25 percent of Queen Anne’s County,” said Teffeau. “Last year we paid $214,000 in property taxes in the county as well so we’re (already) giving back to the community.”
According to their report, the company already serves 54,150 customers in nine Eastern Shore counties with it being owned by the customers directly instead of the traditional shareholders. They also own 6,290 miles of the power lines and 650 miles of middle-mile fiber serviced by 158 employees.
According to Malandro, 36 percent of Maryland residents lack internet service that meets FCC standards, and many of them are on the Eastern Shore in largely rural communities in the north of the county.
With authorization from the county, Malandro said it could leverage its current fiber to begin delivering service. An integral part of that is to seek federal grants to provide “last mile” lines. By using revised economy-of-scale data, the company assured it could provide “the most efficient and economically viable” internet service to the county.
“We’ll be able to get on the (Delmarva Electric) power lines. We’ll be like any other utility who wants to do that. We’ll gave a contract to use them and move into a given territory. Doing it right out of the gate would happen only where it makes sense,” said Malandro on reaching areas of southern portions of the county.
The need for reliable high-speed internet directly affects the estimated 11,834 small businesses on the Eastern Shore as many are based in homes. Industries like telemedicine and even farming all thrive on an internet connection.
“I met with Mike Malandro a few months back when he first proposed this and I thought it was great. I’m a Choptank Customer so I’m very happy. Broadband legislation was done with co-ops so it makes sense that rural broadband should also be done by co-ops like Choptank Electric,” said County Commissioner Jack Wilson.
Agriculture also uses high-speed internet to run newer equipment.
Rate control for the service is integrated into the fact that profit returns to the owners of the company.