Frederick County has chosen a Kensington company to complete a broadband feasibility study countywide.

CTC Technology and Energy, which has completed similar studies and work in broadband issues statewide and throughout the nation, was recently awarded a $75,000 bid to complete the study.

According to the contract between the county and CTC, the technology consulting firm will produce a written report that addresses the following, among other areas:

  • Current and future needs of broadband service, based on county demographics.
  • Estimate of any possible project costs and timelines.
  • Any current providers and where current technology exists.
  • How much stakeholders should play a role in the evaluation process.

Tom Dixon, chief information officer of the county’s Interagency Information Technologies Division, said the state and county will split the cost of the study through Gov. Larry Hogan’s Office of Rural Broadband.

The state’s General Assembly approved $9.68 million for grants through that office, starting in fiscal 2020 and continuing for the next five years, The Frederick News-Post previously reported.

Dixon said that office is likely to split implementation projects ranging from $100,000 to $200,000.

Dixon said one of the challenges installing rural broadband over the last 20 to 30 years is that Comcast has bought many smaller telecommunications companies, acquiring hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure.

According to the county’s latest franchise agreement with Comcast, the company is required to provide service if there is 20 homes per mile of road.

Service lines can cost roughly $30,000 to $50,000 per mile to install, Dixon said. Some jurisdictions statewide have installed their own internet infrastructure, but Frederick County has not considered that because of the cost, he added.

“We have not even tried to estimate the cost of us putting in county-owned infrastructure because the initial thought is it’s going to be extremely expensive just when you think about how large Frederick County is,” Dixon said. “You could easily get into the millions [of dollars] really quickly.”

The broadband feasibility study CTC is completing aims to determine where the coverage gaps are, and how Frederick County and partners can help provide service to those areas.

Broadband is defined as “wired or wireless technology offering throughput of 25 Mbps down[load] and 3 Mbps up[load],” according to the agreement between Frederick County and CTC.

According to its website, CTC has worked with Garrett and Allegany counties on telecommunications projects. Dixon said he was not part of the county’s bidding process for the broadband study, and did not know whether their experience in western Maryland was a reason CTC was selected.

CTC President Joanne Hovis was not available for comment last week.

Dixon said the broadband study could identify other technologies where an internet signal is transmitted through specific wavelengths of the radio spectrum.

That option may be more feasible, especially in areas where land is more hilly and wooded — like up near Catoctin Mountain, Dixon said.

And there’s also the challenge of internet wires taking up space on telephone lines, Dixon said. Various regulations stipulate those lines must be a certain distance above the ground, or the pole must be built higher.

“There’s a lot of complexity that the typical resident, once you walk them through it, they understand it,” Dixon said. “It’s sometimes easy for a resident to go, why can’t they extend the line another half a mile to my house? Quite often, you understand it’s not that easy once you understand all the issues involved.”

The study is expected to start in early November and finish by March, Dixon said. Its final report and other information will help the county determine what possible infrastructure projects to pursue, Dixon said.

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.

(4) comments

mrnatural1

Unfortunately, "feasibility studies" are often used when the local gov't has to take an unpopular position and wants to deflect the blow-back.

It sounds like the folks in more rural/remote areas of FredCo will not be getting broadband anytime soon -- unless they have line-of-sight to the Hughes Net satellite and are willing and able to pay Hughes' high fees and put up with their heavy-handed restrictions on time of day, speed, and amount of data.

I hope I'm wrong of course, but it doesn't sound good.

What needs to change is the county’s franchise agreement with Comcast. Currently, the company is required to provide service only if there are at least 20 homes per mile of road. That's a high bar. That section should be eliminated -- or number of homes per mile should be drastically reduced. Thankfully, there are still plenty of roads in FredCo with fewer than 20 homes per mile, but that means a lot of people are being denied broadband.

The agreement sounds as if it was written by Comcast, for Comcast. Of course the company would rather cherry-pick and cover only areas with high population density. Can you imagine if Potomac Edison had an agreement like that?! "Sorry, there are only 16.3 houses per mile on your road -- no electricity for you! Visit our store for great deals on kerosene heaters and lamps..." At this point, Internet access is a necessity -- just like electricity. If Comcast wants to do business in FredCo, they should cover the ENTIRE county -- not just the most profitable areas.

That begs the question -- who pays? I have no idea how the numbers would shake out. As the article says, it can be very expensive to run coax cable: "Service lines can cost roughly $30,000 to $50,000 per mile to install...". That seems high. I realize that the cost of the cable is just part of the overall cost, but out of curiosity I searched for the type of coax cable companies use for feeder lines (there are several) and picked one that was more expensive: "625 JCAM HARDLINE CABLE MESSENGERED FOR CATV AERIAL". In small quantities, it costs about $1 per foot: https://www.cableandwireshop.com/625-jcam-hardline-cable-messengered.html Other feeder cables were much less per foot.

So that's about $5,300 per mile -- and likely quite a bit less, since Comcast purchases cable in huge quantities. Add a couple bucket trucks and maybe 4 techs at say $1,500 per day -- even with amps, etc, that doesn't add up to $50,000, or even $30,000.

Still, it does cost something, and it ain't cheap. So even if we force Comcast to accept payment for their TRUE cost (not a bloated claim), plus a modest profit -- someone has to pay. Actually, it could be argued that Comcast should absorb some of the cost -- after all, they will be getting an additional guaranteed steady income stream from the new customers. The rest of the cost will likely be spread among all Comcast subscribers, or all FredCo residents. Perhaps the state gov't will chip in some, since the article said, "...the state and county will split the cost of the study through Gov. Larry Hogan’s Office of Rural Broadband."

Let's look at examples of two potential Comcast customers:

1) A wealthy couple who moved here from MoCo (or out of state) and purchased several acres in a remote area to build their starter castle. They were fully aware (or should have been) that there was no cable service to the property, and Comcast had no plans to provide it. They can afford Hughes' best service and have acceptable broadband access.

2) A low income couple who lives in a trailer on a farm in northeastern FredCo. They can barely pay their bills as it is, do not have line-of-sight to Hughes' satellite, and couldn't afford it if they did.

Hopefully most people would agree that while both should be serviced by Comcast, #2 is much more deserving of a subsidized connection, while #1 should have to pay all or most of the cost out-of-pocket. #2 might be expected to chip in a nominal amount.

The bottom line is that everyone should have broadband Internet access. The amount they pay for the service installation should depend upon their income. Remember, most of us got it for "free". As for the regular monthly fee, perhaps there could be a low cost basic service plan. The article says, "Broadband is defined as “wired or wireless technology offering throughput of 25 Mbps down[load] and 3 Mbps up[load]...” 25 Mbps isn't necessary, except perhaps for a large family, but cutting the download speed to 5-10 Mbps probably wouldn't save much money anyway. So let's say the basic plan is the specified 25/3 Mbps, along with the limited TV channels, including PBS; local cable access; the FredCo gov't channel; the major networks, etc.

Thoughts?

For those who are interested, here is the link to the FNP article from May, 2018, regarding the Comcast contract, before it was finalized -- along with the comments:

https://www.fredericknewspost.com/news/politics_and_government/county-to-consider-renewing-comcast-contract/article_b693459d-7ce2-523a-8ae2-442442871ed1.html

MD1756

US Telecom has the following "The Department of Transportation has compiled statistics that put the average cost of laying fiber at $27,000 per mile."
As far as thoughts, I view highspeed internet more as a convenience than a necessity, but then again I still don't own a dumb cellphone, much less a smart one. While it may be convenient foe schools to put things online, they should all make provisions to transmit information the old fashioned way if needed (particularly for people who have children they can't afford and therefore can't afford interent for their children(s)' homework). While we got our internet connection for "free" the payback period for the cable company is much less from those living in a more densely populated area than living further out. When we lived in NY we had the issue of no cable (the internet didn't exist then) because there were too few houses per mile. We somehow survived with just over the air channels and we had to communicate through land line phones or by mail.

mrnatural1

MD1756 -- I recall a similar comment of yours, it may be among those below the May 2018 article I linked to.

We all do what's right for us. I do have a smartphone but rarely use it. It just sits on my desk. I think it's safe to say though that when it comes to cell phones, you and I are in a tiny minority.

It could be argued that most people do not absolutely NEED a smartphone, but that's because they have Internet access at home, and probably at work as well.

I'm sure there are people with political and/or financial reasons to oppose extending broadband Internet access to all county residents. It will cost money. Who pays and how much is TBD. Cost is always a concern. I imagine some might think "broadband for all" sounds like a socialistic plan and are therefore opposed. Those are legitimate issues that can be discussed.

I respect your right to your opinion that the Internet is a convenience, but most people agree that access to the Internet has become a necessity. Can people survive without it? Of course, there are many people who do. The same can be said of electricity. The Amish do just fine without it, but they are the exception. It's difficult to argue that because a very limited number of people get by without electricity, a landline or cell phone, and/or the Internet, therefore those things aren't are necessities of modern life.

The $27,000 per mile figure is good to have, thanks for that. IDK how Comcast would extent their network, but the article mentions utility poles. It stands to reason that if it costs $27K/mile to bury optic fiber cable, hanging coax on utility poles should cost significantly less. Either way though, it's expensive.

Whatever it ends up costing, we will all (at least all Comcast customers) pay a bit more, but just as with the Rural Electrification Act and the Communications Act of 1934, it is the right thing to do.

In fact, congress reaffirmed the nation's commitment to the policy and social value of universal service in passing the landmark Telecommunications Act of 1996.

See: https://www.ntca.org/ruraliscool/history-rural-telecommunications for more.

"Social value" is something that is rarely mentioned. We all pay to support our public school systems (whether or not we have children). Most people agree that the investment in education is worth it -- we all benefit from an educated and socialized populace. Similarly, we all benefit from everyone having broadband, with access to:

* The Mayo Clinic and similar websites.

* Information about safe food storage.

* Online courses at colleges and universities -- many of which are free.

* Online vendors, which are particularly important to people in remote areas.

* Local gov't websites.

* School system websites.

* News stories from sources all around the world -- from the FNP to The Economist.

* Consumer Reports and other sources of information about products and services.

* The majority of the accumulated knowledge of mankind.

While the only immediate necessities for life are air, water, and food, the Internet has become critically important.

matthewboh

I'll be really interested, especially if they consider a wireless mesh in rural areas and possible income replacing current providers in more urban areas. For example, install wireless mesh in Frederick City. If they can do it for less than $50 per month for my residence, I'm all in!

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