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Having dial-up Internet access these days is like using an operator-assisted, crank-style telephone.
High-speed Internet is available through cable, dedicated service lines, wireless connections, fiber and satellite. But some rural areas of St. Mary’s County still have to rely on dial-up lines the method most people used in the mid-1990s to connect to the Internet.
“Cable is the gold standard,” said Pat Elder, who lives off Rosecroft Road in St. Mary’s City. He and more than 50 of his neighbors have signed a petition to MetroCast Communications to get high-speed Internet service installed in their area. “No one said no” when asked to sign the petition to become a Metrocast customer, Elder said.
Bernard Hazelwood, general manager for the Hollywood office of MetroCast, said extending cable lines to St. Mary’s City is not budgeted at this point. However, he said, “We’re reviewing the options that we have down there. Nothing has been confirmed at this point in time.” There is no timeline for an expected answer, either, he said.
“I’m disappointed, for sure,” Elder said when he heard of MetroCast’s reply.
St. Mary’s County government has cable franchise agreements with MetroCast, which covers most of the county, and Comcast, which serves the Golden Beach neighborhood in northern St. Mary’s.
The franchise agreement finalized in 2003 called on MetroCast to upgrade its infrastructure and install high-speed fiber lines for county government offices, libraries and all middle and high schools.
St. Mary’s College of Maryland has access to this system but does not use it yet, said Bob Kelly, director of the St. Mary’s County Department of Public Safety and Information Technology. The college uses Verizon through the Maryland Academic Telecommunications System.
The dark fiber system installed by MetroCast is much faster than cable Internet speeds. Kelly said he has seen speeds from his office as high as 1,000 megabytes per second.
At Elder’s home off Rosecroft Road, he said his Internet speed averages 145 kilobytes per second. He uses both dial-up and a spotty wireless service.
MetroCast advertises its highest Internet speed for customers at 18 megabytes per second via cable modems.
MetroCast’s coverage zone for high-speed Internet is proprietary information and isn’t public. But there are areas without high-speed service in St. Mary’s and throughout the state.
The Broadband Maryland initiative and “networkMaryland” have partnered to expand Internet infrastructure into rural areas of the state, which could allow businesses to provide services in rural areas. Kelly said it could “indirectly” provide Internet service to the St. Mary’s City area, if a business decided to make the investment.
“It sounds like a long way off, too,” Elder said.
It is an expensive investment and a company needs a viable number of customers to make it a worthwhile project, Kelly said.
The St. Mary’s County cable franchise agreement states a company shall expand its service as long as the new subscriber is located 300 feet or less from the end of the existing cable system, and the number of potential subscribers is equal to or greater than 20 homes per mile measured from any point on the system.
MetroCast has “done a lot more than what’s required” in the franchise agreement, Kelly said. “They have a robust network. It’s just expensive to expand it.”
“Maybe the county ought to tighten up on its agreement, too,” Elder said, to provide more coverage to more people in outlying areas.
County government did have a cable advisory committee that met to take up customer complaints, but it was disbanded last year.
“It was really to address citizen concerns and complaints and we weren’t receiving any,” Kelly said.