The year 2022 — the deadline for Maryland to connect the entire state to affordable, high-speed internet access — is fast approaching.
But with more than a million Marylanders still lacking abundant, affordable broadband options, the state should continue investing in rural internet access and community owned networks to meet its goal.
Since the Office of Rural Broadband was established two years ago, Maryland has worked to expand high-speed internet access across the state by supporting local governments and community-minded providers.
The office has disbursed hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund feasibility studies and pilot projects in underserved counties. It also helped Westminster refinance debt from its municipal broadband network, which the city’s private partner, Ting, is using to connect homes and businesses to high-quality internet access. Westminster is already taking advantage of improved connectivity to promote economic development and create jobs.
More recently, the Office of Rural Broadband helped Easton Utilities apply for a broadband grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to upgrade its municipal broadband network to high-speed fiber, leveraging modest state funding to potentially unlock millions in federal dollars.
And earlier this fall, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced that the state would commit an additional $100 million over the next five years to connect Marylanders to fast, reliable Internet access.
The state’s financial commitment is crucial because private companies tend to invest in the most profitable areas, leaving rural and low-income communities with poor service and substandard networks. State governments can help overcome this barrier to deployment by funding locally rooted and community owned providers to expand internet access.
Compared to the federal government, states are more nimble and better understand local needs and strengths, so they can direct investment to where it’s the most effective. They can also set higher standards to ensure that they’re funding truly modern networks.
Community broadband networks and public-private partnerships receive support from many state programs to great local benefit. Nonetheless, these networks attract negative attention from groups funded by the large cable and telephone companies that prefer their own monopolies to competition. Communities should be able to decide for themselves what model works best, without interference from special interests.
Maryland shouldn’t shy away from investing in essential infrastructure. Gov. Hogan and the General Assembly must continue to support local broadband solutions if the state wants to meet its goal of bringing all Marylanders affordable, high-speed internet access by 2022.