County signs con­tract for broad­band fiber

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CENTREVILLE — In a split vote Tues­day, Aug. 8, the Queen Anne’s County Com­mis­sion­ers voted 3–2 in fa­vor of sign­ing a $6.5 mil­lion con­tract to bring broad­band fiber to Queen Anne’s County. The con­tract is con­tin­gent upon FTS Fiber se­cur­ing bond­ing or an oth­er­wise ac­cept­able means of con­tract guar­an­tee.

FTS Fiber, the same com­pany cur­rently serv­ing Kent County, will pro­vide the de­sign, en­gi­neer­ing, con­struc­tion, op­er­a­tions and main­te­nance of a fiber op­tic broad­band net­work through­out the county. Of par­tic­u­lar im­por­tance is the fact that ru­ral, un­der­served ar­eas of the county will have the op­por­tu­nity to hook into

the net­work. A com­pany spokesman said 99.9 per­cent of county res­i­dents will have the abil­ity and choice as to whether they want to be con­nected.

Cur­rently county res­i­dents have op­tions in­clud­ing Ver­i­zon and At­lantic Broad­band, with sim­i­lar or slightly lower rates for ser­vice. How­ever, con­sis­tent, re­li­able in­ter­net ser­vice has of­ten been a prob­lem, say many res­i­dents.

At­lantic Broad­band has a fran­chise agree­ment with the county, which al­lows them to use county rightof-way, said County Ad­min­is­tra­tor Gregg Todd. This new con­tract would not af­fect At­lantic Broad­band’s abil­ity to sup­ply ser­vice within the county, he said.

Me­gan DelGua­dio, IT man­ager for Queen Anne’s County, said the com­mis­sion­ers cre­ated a Broad­band Task Force Com­mit­tee and its mis­sion was to re­search and make a rec­om­men­da­tion to the com­mis­sion­ers on the best way to move the county for­ward with high speed in­ter­net. Last sum­mer, the com­mis­sion­ers ap­proved the com­mit­tee’s rec­om­men­da­tion to so­licit re­quests for pro­pos­als. Five pro­pos­als were re­ceived and re­viewed by the com­mit­tee, three com­pa­nies were in­ter­viewed and FTS Fiber was se­lected.

“For $8.7 mil­lion, FTS is propos­ing to con­struct 160 miles of fiber through­out Queen Anne’s County as well as pro­vide the county gov­ern­ment with a ded­i­cated lit fiber net­work to 82 sites,” she said. “This project is es­ti­mated to ac­tu­ally cost $30 mil­lion, but is be­ing fi­nanced by in­vestors. In or­der for FTS in­vestors to be will­ing to put their money up they re­quire that the county sign on to use their fiber which shows in­vestors there is an on­go­ing rev­enue stream. A break­down for that $8.7 mil­lion is $6.5 mil­lion for con­struc­tion and $2.2 mil­lion over 10 years for lit fiber ser­vice and main­te­nance to county fa­cil­i­ties.”

Sim­ply put, Todd ex­plained, that means the county will en­ter a 10-year agree­ment with FTS to sup­ply in­ter­net ser­vice to 82 gov­ern­ment build­ings.

Cur­rently, a sec­ond com­pany, ThinkBig, would han­dle in­stal­la­tions from the road to the homes that ask for broad­band, just as they are do­ing now in Kent County.

If res­i­dents sign up for broad­band from FTS, they would pay a $400 in­stal­la­tion rate whether their dis­tance from the road to their home is 20 feet or a mile, which was a big con­cern for the Broad­band Task Force Com­mit­tee as the ru­ral, farm ar­eas of the county are un­der­served by other forms of in­ter­net. The an­tic­i­pated monthly fee for ser­vice is ex­pected to be about $100.

An un­der­tak­ing of this mag­ni­tude is sim­i­lar to when the coun­try was in­stalling elec­tri­cal lines, and some say that broad­band in­ter­net is a crit­i­cal util­ity to­day, not just a lux­ury gov­ern­ment should be in­volved in pro­vid­ing it, said Com­mis­sioner Jack Wil­son, who voted to sign the con­tract.

Com­mis­sioner James Mo­ran said, “Fiber is the fu­ture for Queen Anne’s County chil­dren. It’s a ne­ces­sity, not a lux­ury, when 40 to 50 per­cent of the county has no con­nec­tion. We ap­proved the pur­chase of Chrome­books for our stu­dents; some have to go to the li­brary or McDon­ald’s do to their home­work.”

“We have peo­ple who could ac­cess bet­ter health care if they had the in­ter­net,” said Com­mis­sioner Robert Buckey. “We have chil­dren that could study from home if they had ac­cess to the in­ter­net. This will also help ad­vance broad­band to county fa­cil­i­ties. And let’s not over­look just how im­por­tant broad­band is to eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment for both large cor­po­ra­tions and our mom and pop busi­ness. We can pro­vide this to our cit­i­zens with­out rais­ing taxes.”

Com­mis­sion­ers Stephen Wil­son and Mark An­der­son were the two votes against en­ter­ing into the broad­band con­tract. An­der­son wanted to first see a let­ter of credit or per­for­mance guar­an­tees.

Com­mis­sioner Stephen Wil­son was the most vo­cal op­po­nent. He wanted more pub­lic dis­cus­sion. He ques­tioned whether pro­vid­ing fiber is some­thing that the gov­ern­ment should do, and even if it was, was this the par­tic­u­lar com­pany that should be hired. He said he was not im­pressed with the com­pany’s rat­ing on Dunn and Brad­street.

Ac­cord­ing to Todd, the 82 county build­ings would in­clude schools, such as Sudlersville Mid­dle School. With the county con­tract­ing with FTS Fiber, it will al­low them [FTS Fiber] to lay the back­bone of a fiber op­tic net­work in ru­ral ar­eas where they would typ­i­cally not ex­tend ser­vice, Todd said.

Typ­i­cally ca­ble or fiber op­tic net­work com­pa­nies will not lay ser­vice lines in ar­eas that are not heav­ily pop­u­lated be­cause it is cost pro­hib­i­tive for them to do so, he ex­plained.

Centreville res­i­dent Ali­son Davis also ad­dressed that sub­ject dur­ing the press and pub­lic com­ment part of the com­mis­sion­ers’ meet­ing. She said, “Big com­pa­nies with good Dunn and Brad­street rat­ings won’t come to the ta­ble.”

“This is a ne­ces­sity verses a want,” said Davis. “As Gov. Ho­gan said this is a pub­lic ne­ces­sity and gov­ern­ment is re­spon­si­ble to pro­vide it. We have a test case in a county nearby (Kent), and it’s go­ing well. In­vest­ing in long-last­ing in­fra­struc­ture is im­por­tant. This isn’t about wires in the ground, it’s about peo­ple.”

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