Broad­band co. seeks to make In­dian Head wire­less

Maryland Independent - - News - By TIF­FANY WAT­SON twat­son@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @Tif­fIndyNews

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.

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