County signs contract for broadband fiber
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.”