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.