Suzanne Wenmoth, who lives just west of the southern portion of Catoctin Mountain, has internet access through a HughesNet satellite dish on her roof.
The service is usable, but it has a hard data limit of 30 gigabytes per month, she said. Most months, she and her family hit that limit by the eighth or ninth day.
In the past three or four months, Wenmoth got a quote from Comcast about how much it would cost to dig a trench and run high-speed internet to her home.
The quote was $5,000.
But given that she works from home and wants to stream movies and TV shows, Wenmoth is considering it.
“My dream would be to be able to stream Netflix,” she said with a laugh.
Wenmoth’s issue — a lack of accessibility to broadband internet — is shared by others who live on Fox Tower Road and other parts of rural northern Frederick County.
Gov. Larry Hogan’s office recently announced nearly $10 million to address the problem across the state and provide “225,000 Marylanders in rural communities with reliable, affordable internet access,” according to a news release.
Kenrick Gordon, director of rural broadband in Hogan’s office, said via email that this is part of a five-year plan that identified 17 counties in need, including Frederick County. Grants will be provided to providers and jurisdictions for construction, technical service and adoption outreach. The exact amount Frederick County will receive remains to be seen.
In fiscal 2020, the state’s General Assembly approved $9.68 million for those grants, Gordon said. Any jurisdictions selected will need to provide a 50 to 70 percent match, he added.
“The office is currently working with an advisory committee comprised of state, industry and county representatives to develop a funding application that will be used to disburse the appropriated funds,” Gordon wrote. “The application will be available for counties and providers to apply for funding this fall.”
State officials will also begin conducting “pilot projects” to provide service to more homes by extending the range of current broadband infrastructure, Gordon said. Those projects will help determine the cost of improvements needed to smaller areas and will also start this fall, he added.
County officials said high-speed internet access is needed, especially in more rural, mountainous areas of the county.
Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer said it’s an issue she’s encountered while talking to several residents, especially in areas between Wolfsville and Sabillasville, and from her time spent on the PTA Council of Frederick County.
“If you have a kid in school, and they have a project, you have to actually drive them someplace so they can do the research they need to get done,” Keegan-Ayer said. “It’s something we heard all the time when I was on the PTA council.”
County Executive Jan Gardner said county officials recently put out a request for proposal (RFP) to potential vendors to complete a feasibility study, which would help determine where broadband internet needs are, and what areas might be the most cost-effective to install internet access.
According to the RFP, the vendor would, in part, conduct a feasibility study that would determine which would be the best “routes” to provide coverage, based on current infrastructure and what technology is available now.
“Everyone depends on better connections to the internet whether it’s through their computer or their phone,” Gardner said. “The need is very real in our rural areas and ... it’s part of rural economic development in some of our smaller communities.”
Wenmoth is one resident who could use the broadband. She said she works as a midlevel manager for a health care information company based near Atlanta, and constantly downloads large medical files for data analysis.
She said she appreciates the ability to work from home and the quietness of living near the mountain — she often sees deer, foxes, bears and other animals near her house.
But given the data limit, she often wakes up at 4 a.m. on days she works. The reason why, she said, is because files downloaded between 2 and 8 a.m. don’t count toward the monthly limit.
Her internet won’t work in bad weather, she said. Oftentimes, she has to head to a friend’s house in Thurmont for internet access.
“I would love nothing better than the ability to have broadband,” Wenmoth said. “Working at home is a treat, and I realize that. ... But I could do a lot more in a lot less time.”