SNOW HILL – Worcester County will work with three internet service providers as it uses grant funds to expand rural broadband.
The county will use $7.1 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to work with three internet service providers currently bringing high speed internet to unserved parts of the county. The proposal approved Tuesday takes each company where it has an existing footprint and has them expand into nearby unserved areas.
“This has been a long time coming,” Commissioner Ted Elder said.
In July, the Worcester County Commissioners agreed to spend $7.1 million of the county’s ARPA funding to expand access to broadband. Staff returned to the commissioners this week with a proposal on how to break up the funding between the three internet companies currently working in Worcester—Bay Country Communications, Choptank Fiber and Talkie Communications. The proposal provides $1 million to Bay Country Communications to extend serve from Newark down to Girdletree, on the east side of Route 113, and a section of Carey Road north of Berlin. The company will provide a 15% match, bringing the total to $1,176,600. They’re covering 31.8 miles at a cost of $37,000 per mile.
The proposal gives $2.5 million to Choptank to provide service west of Route 12 and north of the Pocomoke River. Choptank is proposing a 50% match, which brings the project total to $5 million. They’re covering 81 miles at a cost of $61,000 per mile.
The proposal provides Talkie with $3.5 million to bring service along Route 12 from Snow Hill to the Virginia line as well as service between Bishopville and Whaleyville. The company proposes a 42% match, which brings the project total to $6.1 million They’re covering 83 miles at a cost of $73,751 per mile.
When asked about the timeline for the projects, Chief Administrative Officer Weston Young said it would likely be 18 months but that the county had until 2026 to spend ARPA funds.
“The sooner we can connect people the better,” Young said.
And while the proposal doesn’t extend service everywhere in the county, Young said it would likely spur further expansion by the providers.
“I do believe we will see organic growth,” he said.
Commissioner Josh Nordstrom praised staff for developing the proposal and made a motion to approve it. The commissioners voted unanimously in support. Elder said he was optimistic that once the companies expanded as shown in the plan they’d grow their service from there.
“I would certainly hope within a reasonable amount of time we can see them expand their territories until we have every person in the county covered,” he said.