The internet is an essential part of everyday life. We could go on for paragraphs about that and about how this last year has emphasized that reality. But you know that already. The internet is an essential part of everyday life and therefore access to the internet is essential.
It didn’t take a pandemic to drive that point home for the Board of Charles County Commissioners. Back in 2019 – within months of taking office – the Charles County Commissioners made broadband internet access one of their first priorities, and they tasked staff to present them with a plan to bring broadband to the unserved and underserved parts of Charles County, which is mostly the rural, less densely populated areas.
Costs Are National Problem
Rural broadband is a national problem. It’s expensive to run fiber lines – tens and tens of thousands of dollars or more per mile. Multiply that by the hundreds of miles of rural roads in the county and the thousands of counties in the country, and the zeros add up. Private internet service providers (ISPs) are not willing to invest that kind of money in broadband infrastructure if they can’t make it back through paying customers. In rural areas with potential customers few and far between, the business model doesn’t work.
Decades ago, the federal government was willing to require phone and electricity providers to connect everyone to their services. Today, that’s not the case with broadband. So, it’s up to local governments to find solutions.
Charles County’s Solution
Charles County Government’s solution started with the creation of the Broadband Task Force, a committee of CCG employees whose roles in some way connected to this effort. Deputy County Administrator Deborah Hall led the Task Force with Chief of Information Technology Evelyn Jacobson and participation from Planning and Growth Management, Emergency Services, other IT and County Administrator’s Office staff, Economic Development, and outside partners such as the Charles County Public Schools, SMECO, and two dedicated citizens.
Broadband Taskforce Yields Results
In a very short time, this effort has yielded enormous results. Thanks to a lot of hard work from the Broadband Task Force – especially leadership – and support from the Commissioners, a broadband plan was developed, which led to a grant from the State of Maryland, which was matched by the County. That funding enabled county government to enter into a public private partnership with ThinkBig Networks, LLC to create the Nanjemoy/Cobb Neck Broadband Buildout (NCNBB), an initiative to connect residents in those parts of the county to broadband internet access.
Nanjemoy/Cobb Neck Broadband Buildout
An initial groundbreaking was held earlier this Spring, though actual work was already underway. All five County Commissioners were on hand for the ceremony in Newburg, as well as Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.
The initiative was recently recognized by the National Association of Counties (NACo) with an Achievement Award, one of three for Charles County. The County Government News Release about the awards describes the project as, “… a multi-million-dollar endeavor to construct and operate a 90-mile fiber optic network for two large, unserved rural areas in the county. The buildout will provide the connectivity for more than 1,400 residences and businesses and is expected to be completed in August 2023.”
This recognition is well deserved, and we congratulate our county government co-workers on these awards.
Project Helps Rural/Underserved Residents and Promotes Entrepreneurship
While the NCN Broadband Buildout will bring service to rural residences, it has potential for entrepreneurial activity. Of course, we know that not all those 1,400 households are homes to potential entrepreneurs, but there are likely a few. And from an economic development standpoint, an environment where people can turn ideas, talent, and opportunity into successful home-based businesses means potential for creating local employers of the future. In fact, statistics show that existing businesses and local startups have the greatest impact – up to 80 percent – on the economic growth of a community.
The NCN Broadband Buildout is just the start. The Broadband Task Force is still working on further initiatives and resources for connecting other pockets of the county that the internet service providers have skipped. And, the Economic Development Department is happy to continue supporting these efforts and the county’s homegrown entrepreneurs, present and future.