Broadband co. seeks to make Indian Head wireless
With the fiber optic infra- structure project now com- plete in the Town of Indian Head, the council is now open to other opportunities to expand the broadband possibilities in the area.
On Nov. 30, John Hug- gins Jr., co-founder and chief operating officer of Last Mile Broadband LLC, met with the Indian Head Town Council during its work session about poten- tially building wireless and broadband networks with- in the town.
“We are looking at Indi- an Head being our prima- ry pilot project,” Huggins said. “What makes Indian Head a top priority is be- cause of the fiber network that Maryland Broadband Cooperative put in. All the spots they put it in make it ideal for our connectiv- ity. They even put it at the water tower already where we would normally build to that. That makes it exciting and cost effective.”
Since Last Mile Broad- band started in 2012, Hug- gins said the company has applied for Federal Com- munications Commission broadband approval and won a small provisional sum of $260,000, registered with Maryland Pub- lic Service Commission to become an eligible telecommunications carri- er — making broadband affordable for low income families — and becom- ing an an E-Rate Provider Service in order to pro- vide broadband services to schools, hospitals and libraries.
“Our whole purpose and plan is to support the need for broadband in rural and underserved areas,” Hug- gins said. “Many residents are looking for broadband options and this is the next generation telecommuni- cations.”
Huggins has been in the telecommunications busi- ness for over 35 years and has built networks and upgraded communication systems around the world, mostly for military bas- es. He has participated in projects including building fiber optic networks and communication systems for government agencies and federal agencies, and running telecommunica- tions operations at multiple U.S. Air Force and Army bases.
Last Mile Broadband is currently considering three areas for its pilot project: southern Prince George’s County, Hughes- ville and Indian Head. The company would like to start in Southern Mary- land, with southern Prince George’s County, move into Charles County and then Calvert and St. Mary’s counties as they get the op- portunity to build outward.
“There is a lack of afford- able high speed internet ac- cess in much of Southern Maryland,” Huggins said. “People have challenges getting internet, particu- larly some businesses in Charles County. Our solu- tion is to build the ‘last mile’ wireless and broadband networks in those areas.”
He said the wireless net- work would be up and run- ning in four to five months, covering almost the entire population of Indian Head just by building off the two water towers in the town. Eventually they plan to cov- er the surrounding areas as well, since Naval Sup- port Facility Indian Head is located there.
“I did a lot of reading of the town’s revitalization plan and comprehensive plan, and broadband fits right in with that,” Huggins said. “Then as we build out, we can do direct fiber to the homes because, for the future, fiber to the home is the way to go to support the folks using the internet. People are using the inter- net for TV now to cut costs. So we’re looking at bringing high speed internet di- rectly into their homes.”
Huggins requested some kind of confirmation from the town government — either a public-private part- nership contract or letter of intent. He also asked about any requirements from the town council before mak- ing an agreement with the town and working out spe- cifics.
If entered into an agree- ment, the broadband com- pany plans to lease in town and research ways to re- ceive county funding.
Vice Mayor Ron Sitou- la asked about Last Mile Broadband’s comparative analysis to other broad- band companies. He was interested in finding out how residents in other ar- eas have benefited locally in terms of prices and qual- ity of service from his com- pany’s broadband.
Sitoula also asked about the potential to make wi-fi free and accessible any- where in Indian Head.
“We are trying to attract millennials to stay and it’s a key economic enhancer,” Sitoula said.
Huggins said wi-fi can easily be set up in the town’s local parks since wireless is very flexible and the town is compact. He also said his company’s costs would be much lower than other companies (Verizon Fios and Comcast), estimating at $60 a month.
“Cost effective and quality is important to us,” Huggins said.
“Notionally we can say this sounds like a good idea, but this town is uncharted territory,” said Councilman Curtis Smith. “I’m unaware of the town entering into an agreement with any other major companies that provide this service. We’d have to really consider the implications of entering into an agreement or letter of intent. Even with the prevalence of all of the other services, people still have to go to McDonalds to do their schoolwork — so there are broader implications that need to be considered when we go into an agreement of any sort.”
Town manager Ryan Hicks said he will contact Charles County government and Maryland Broadband Cooperative to answer a few of the council’s lingering questions, in regards to Huggins’ request. He will bring the information back to the council so that they can make a decision from there, he said.