Thurmont residents could be on the verge of getting a new internet provider — the town — as local leaders are trying to make high-speed internet available to everyone in the community.
The Thurmont Internet Commission made a presentation to the Thurmont Board of Commissioners and Mayor John Kinnaird Tuesday night, outlining a multi-step proposal for municipal-wide internet service. The plan is still in its basic stages and has not been voted on.
The Internet Commission was created last year by Thurmont resident Elliot Jones, who had read about other small municipalities in the country — such as Fairlawn, Ohio — creating a fiber network for their residents. He was inspired to bring the possibility to Thurmont, a town where many residents still use slow DSL or satellites, or have no internet at all.
"A lot of our residences only have access to DSL and the speeds they're getting on DSL are abysmal," Jones said. "They're getting seven megabits or they're paying for 15 and only getting seven. They’re still paying $30-$50 a month and not getting what they're paying for."
Currently, most Thurmont residents use Comcast internet or a Verizon DSL. A survey conducted by the Thurmont Internet Commission found that most Thurmont residents using Comcast were only receiving speeds up to half as fast as what they were paying for. A resident might pay for the download speed of 100 megabits per second, but only see speeds of 50 megabits per second, for example. And some homes can't access Comcast because they are too remote.
A municipality-wide internet system would allow every resident the chance to be connected to high-speed internet, priced lower than Comcast.
Dan Kosek, Internet Commission member and the founder of VentusRF in Frederick, explained that to start, Thurmont could offer wireless broadband service to residents, with large antennae installed on the town's three water towers. One tower's antenna would probably be installed first, with the next two coming in the following months. Then, residents would be able to purchase internet access from the town of Thurmont itself at varying price points for different speeds.
The goal would be to eventually run fiber, which creates a more stable and faster connection, to individual houses in Thurmont. Kosek said a mix of fiber and wireless broadband could be used to cover the whole town, some of which might be hard to connect with fiber due to lack of telephone wires or because of rough terrain.
"So that's why we're looking at a hybrid model because Thurmont's topography and just how far some of the homes are from right of ways are ... that's being considered," Jones said. "And also because of the logistical problem of having to dig underneath existing right of ways."
While Jones said he finds his internet service in town to be OK, he said the lack of competition makes him wary about Comcast's increasing prices.
"If I'm in a my-way or the highway situation, I don't feel comfortable with that as a consumer or a resident," he said.
The internet connection that Thurmont would initially use to set up its towers would be from a 10 gigabit pipe from Comcast that the company is not currently using. These commercial services are considered separate from their individual XFinity services. Thurmont would then be responsible for managing the internet and connecting each participating house — not Comcast.
The commissioners and Mayor Kinnaird said they were hopeful about the plans and would be discussing them again in the future. Jones anticipates lots of follow-up questions and more presentations before moving forward with an official proposal.
"We are here to support the mayor and board in investigating this as an option for the town and we'll support them for as long as that takes," he said.