Workers in St. Mary’s County finished laying out over 61 miles of cable for broadband projects at the end of the year, more than half of which was used for the $2.4 million “middle mile” project, the county’s information technology director told commissioners on Tuesday.
The middle mile broadband project approached 267 St. Mary’s addresses, and an additional 286 public school students’ addresses were hooked up to broadband through the county’s last mile project, Bob Kelly, the director of the St. Mary’s department of IT, told commissioners, who authorized the project last spring using federal CARES Act funds and other grant money.
The middle mile project brought broadband to some areas with historically poor service at the rural ends of the county, such as Mt. Wolf Road, Bushwood City Road, Cherryfield Road and St. Jerome’s Neck Road.
The broadband for unserved students project, which established the “last mile” of broadband between providers and residential addresses, hooked up additional homes of public school students without broadband, whose addresses were between 300 and 1,600 feet from an existing broadband line.
That project totaled about 26 miles of cable, Kelly said.
“You authorized this effort very early in the CARES grant project, and I know you took some heat for that,” Kelly said, adding the county “got ahead of other folks” who also decided to do broadband with the CARES Act funds, who are now facing supply shortages. At the time, the commissioners were criticized for not immediately giving money to the local school system to buy more student laptops.
“They can’t get the material. They ran into this whole logistics backlog,” he said.
The commissioners also approved a grant application for the next phase of the county’s broadband project, which is expected to service about 73 households in areas including Whalen Road, Burnt Mills Road and Bushwood Wharf Road.
“You’ve got most, if not all, of the low-hanging fruit,” Commissioner Mike Hewitt (R) said at the meeting, asking Kelly if he had a plan for “the next level” of broadband expansion in the county.
The CARES middle mile project hit areas with 12 to 16 homes per mile, Kelly said, and the next submission drops down to areas between 8 and 14 homes per a mile.
In addition to the broadband expansion, the county also laid out cable infrastructure at the Leonardtown library, as well as at Lancaster, Dorsey, Baggett and Chaptico parks, where county residents should be able to access the internet by March, Kelly said.
The connectivity will also allow for the county to establish security cameras in the parks, as well as in their surrounding areas, and the commissioners approved a lease addendum to place security cameras at The Newtowne Players’ theater near the Tulagi Place bus stop in Lexington Park, Kelly said.