Frederick County will use a combination of local, state and private funds to launch a pilot program to install broadband internet in Rocky Ridge, a project officials hope will spur greater access for other residents in rural areas in the coming years.

County Executive Jan Gardner (D) said Thursday the county received a $202,000 grant from the state after applying in January. Frederick County will contribute around $160,000 to help Comcast install broadband in the Rocky Ridge area, about five-and-a-half miles east of Thurmont.

Vivian Laxton, communications director in Gardner’s office, said Comcast will also contribute funding, but that still needs to be determined through a memorandum of understanding through the county. The Rocky Ridge project should be completed by the summer of 2022, Laxton added.

County officials will use money out of the $1 million budgeted in the fiscal 2022 budget to pay their share, Gardner said.

“There was existing line that was fairly close to there, and so there was a place where they could make that connectivity into that underserved area, with some proximity,” Gardner said when asked why Rocky Ridge was chosen as the pilot project. “So it’s a lower-cost project … it was the low-hanging fruit in the unserved area.”

The pilot project begins after a rural broadband study between the county and CTC Technology and Energy. Gardner highlighted some of the findings of that study Thursday, including three areas where scores of county residents are unable to receive consistent broadband service: west of Emmitsburg, east of Emmitsburg running south through Ladiesburg and Johnsville and the southeastern part of the county near Sugarloaf Mountain.

Gardner said a line serving all those communities, starting west of Emmitsburg and running down the eastern part of the county south to Tuscarora would cost more than $20 million. Residents would still need to pay to get the line from the public road to their home, with costs varying on how long of a distance that is.

But she added the federal government will make millions of dollars of grants available in future years.

The county executive said she hears at least once a week from residents who want better internet access.

County Councilman Kai Hagen (D), who lives in a rural area near Thurmont, understands those concerns. He’s had some internet trouble connecting to virtual County Council meetings.

A lot of residents in more densely populated areas may not know how many residents in rural areas countywide struggle with internet issues. But there’s a great need to expand the network, Hagen said.

“It’s an issue for people who work at home, it’s an issue for students who are working from home … I think when you look at modern society, it’s pretty hard to argue that a good, reliable high-speed internet connection is not part of essential infrastructure,” Hagen said.

Gardner said she often hears complaints from county residents about why the county doesn’t enter the business of providing internet, or why more internet options aren’t available.

She said Comcast has most of the available infrastructure to add service and Verizon appears to want to expand in areas closer to Washington D.C., where there are more residents and more opportunity to turn a profit.

Hopefully thousands of county residents will have better access to internet in the next five to 10 years thanks to federal grants and other initiatives, Gardner said. Other providers, including ThinkBig from Chestertown, are interested in expanding networks into Frederick County, according to the rural broadband study.

But the state and federal government need to work with local governments to improve rural broadband, she said.

“We’re not going to get into private sector business … I don’t think anybody who sits in this seat will ever want to do that,” Gardner said. “I just don’t think it makes sense to shift literally tens of millions of dollars of our budget into being a internet provider, when we need schools and roads and libraries and fire stations and these other things our community demands from us.”

Follow Steve Bohnel on Twitter: @Steve_Bohnel

Steve Bohnel is the county government reporter for the Frederick News-Post. He can be reached at sbohnel@newspost.com. He graduated from Temple University, with a journalism degree in May 2017, and is a die-hard Everton F.C. fan.

(13) comments

gary4books

With new technology, such as 5G, about to happen and new Federal spending to give broadband links to rural areas, it might be wise to review all future plans and not get locked into a fading cable system that could cost much more. I suggest that a reliable consultant advice Frederick County on the options and what is expected from both 5G and the Federal plans before any money goes to an other system that may be out of date before it is even useful. DickD is quite right.

DickD

There are better companies than Comcast, Gary. A small company, Talkie has already been granted 57 million to provide Internet to undeserved areas of Frederick County. They use only fiber. They will lock in cost of the Internet for a long time. For Internet, TV and land line phone service there starter rates are $119/mo. There TV service is negotiated every three years and are subject to change based on their renewal contracts.

Shentel is in Boonsboro and plan on coming up alternate 40 to Frederick. They are fiber.

Brunswick has Verizon service because the new homes were connected with fiber when built. Verizon merely had to provide service.

And you can get broadband Internet right now for very low prices from T Mobile, which is still 4G and should be much better with 5G.

As far as I am concerned, Comcast is a monopoly using old technology. Fiber is much better. Right now Comcast slows down during the day because there's not enough capacity. Fiber will give you ten times the capacity of cable.

The County has put out RFP's, hopefully they are not locked in to Comcast.

DickD

Gary, I probably should have added 5G is a long ways from most of us in the County. It takes more spectrum and there's only so much available.

Another interesting option is Civitas. They put in nice looking fiber constucted poles and connect back using fiber. As they mount radioson the poles there's no cost to connect homes or businesses.

I am unhappy with the County being willing to give a large corporation money when their customers are not being treated fairly.

MD1756

5g is not ideal for rural use. Maximum range (no obstructions) is 1500 feet from the cell tower. The network uses smaller/lower powered nodes Here are some sources citing 5g is not effective in rural applications: see https://www.bbcmag.com/rural-broadband/5g-is-not-the-answer-for-rural-broadband or see: https://www.thefastmode.com/expert-opinion/15733-what-s-needed-to-deploy-5g-in-rural-environments which discusses linking 5g with landlines for rural use (but land lines will still only go so far and the 5g can be expensive for the "last mile.")

It would certainly be cheaper for the public if anyone who absolutely needs 5G broadband would move closer to a population center rather than remain rural. One makes trade offs when one chooses rural living versus living in a town/city. To me even if I had to go back to 56k bps I'd rather live in a rural setting than in a town or city. When we lived in upstate NY back in the 80s, they would not run cable up the hill because there were not enough houses per mile so cable service stopped about 3/4 mile down hill from us. Somehow we survived. This day and age, people should be able to survive with satellite and if not, I suggest you move to the city.

gary4books

I might have mentioned Starlink and likely it will do more than 5G that does need many of the smaller "towers" to work. And yes DickD. I do agree with you.

"Starlink is now delivering initial beta service both domestically and internationally, and will continue expansion to near global coverage of the populated world in 2021.

During beta, users can expect to see data speeds vary from 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s and latency from 20ms to 40ms in most locations over the next several months as we enhance the Starlink system. There will also be brief periods of no connectivity at all."

DickD

There are better companies than Comcast. Comcast prices are exorbitant...And Verizon's real problem is they are putting all of their money into 5G. Comcast needs competition to force them to charge fair prices and giving them money is getting involved with private business.

dtwigg

[thumbup]

dtwigg

This is just lazy government at it's finest. Enriching Comcast is not the answer. The county getting involved in making sure that ALL of it's residents have access to a vital UTILITY is the answer. Remove Comcast's monopoly. If you want to subsidize someone pick a small company like Sugarloaf Internet. It makes no sense to continue to subsidize Comcast.

FrederickFan

Comcast has not been given a monopoly. Companies simply don't want to make an upfront investment where there is little return because there are too few customers. This is just basic business and why rural broadband does not exist in Frederick County and every other county with rural areas. To treat broadband as a utility the federal government would need to define it and regulate it that way.

DickD

You are right and they should be controlled.

DickD

FF, you do know broadband Internet is defined as being 25 Mgps down stream don't you. That means many 4G companies can already provide it. It doesn't mean most people would be happy with 25 Mgps. And right now you can get at least 50 Mgps from T Mobile. In fact, some are getting 100.Mgps, but that can be eroded quickly as more people sign up for service. They do currently guarantee 50 Mgps. But read the fine print. They are primarily a cell phone provider and most points for transmission can only provide for 250 customers. It might be okay for rural areas, but they also want to maximize profits. So, read the fine print of any contract to make sure that you can't be cut off from service.

dtwigg

Semantics. They might not have a monopoly for internet service. Comcast DOES have a monopoly for cable, it was granted to the Delaplaines in a sweetheart deal when Frederick Cablevision was founded.

dtwigg

How old are you guys? Is there a 5g or 4G available with no data caps. This is the 2020s broadband with no data caps is a necessity.

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