Nearly 200 stake­hold­ers discuss in­ter­net ac­cess eq­uity

The Kent Island Bay Times - - NEWS -

ANNAPOLIS — When nearly 200 busi­ness lead­ers, eco­nomic devel­op­ment pro­fes­sion­als and state and lo­cal govern­ment of­fi­cials came to­gether to discuss bring­ing affordable, high-speed in­ter­net ser­vice to ru­ral Mary­land, the “why” was not up for de­bate. How­ever, when it came to “how” the op­tions were nu­mer­ous and the fi­nanc­ing was chal­leng­ing to say the least.

Hosted by event part­ners the Ru­ral Mary­land Coun­cil and USDA Ru­ral Devel­op­ment, the pro­gram ti­tled the Re­gional Ru­ral Broad­band Fo­rum was pre­sented re­cently in Annapolis. The fo­rum un­of­fi­cially launched the work of a spe­cial task force en­acted by Mary­land’s Gen­eral Assem­bly, which was signed into law on May 25.

Char­lotte Davis, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Ru­ral Mar yland Coun­cil, chairs the task force, named the Task Force on Ru­ral In­ter­net, Broad­band, Wire­less and Cel­lu­lar Ser­vice. Over the next sev­eral months, Davis and her col­leagues will re­search re­dun­dan­cies and gaps in ser vice and fund­ing op­tions needed to bring dig­i­tal eq­uity to ru­ral Mary­land. By Novem­ber the task force will re­port its find­ings and rec­om­men­da­tions to Gov. Larry Hogan.

The pro­gram in­cluded six ses­sions pro­vid­ing at­ten­dees with in­for­ma­tion rang­ing from the dif­fer­ent broad­band tech­nolo­gies com­monly used in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties to best prac­tices used in New York’s “Broad­band for All” initiative.

The day’s dis­cus­sions often came back to how to cre­ate sus­tain­able high-speed broad­band ac­cess in ar­eas with low pop­u­la­tion den­sity.

“Ad­mit­tedly for a busi­ness whose mis­sion is to turn a profit pro­vid­ing high speed in­ter­net in ru­ral ar­eas is a recipe for mar­ket fail­ure,” said Char­lotte Davis, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Ru­ral Mary­land Coun­cil. “Clearly the so­lu­tion will be pro­vid­ing in­cen­tives and grants to make the project more doable and at­trac­tive.”

The tone of the fo­rum re­mained op­ti­mistic de­spite the ac­knowl­edge­ment that there will be no easy so­lu­tions.

“We can­not have an equal so­ci­ety without equal ac­cess to broad­band,” said RMC chair Josh Hast­ings.

Chim­ing in on that note was Mary­land State Se­na­tor Ade­laide “Addy” C. Eckardt. “It is all about get­ting con­nected and for us (in ru­ral ar­eas) it is the art of the pos­si­ble. It all works bet­ter when we work to­gether,” she said.

For more in­for­ma­tion on the Re­gional Ru­ral Broad­band Fo­rum, call 410-841-5774 or visit ru­ral. mary­land.gov.

PHOTO BY HARRY BOSK

At­ten­dees at a group ses­sion at the re­cent Re­gional Ru­ral Broad­band Fo­rum, hosted by event part­ners the Ru­ral Mary­land Coun­cil and USDA Ru­ral Devel­op­ment. The fo­rum in­cluded six ses­sions pro­vid­ing at­ten­dees with in­for­ma­tion rang­ing from the dif­fer­ent broad­band tech­nolo­gies com­monly used in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties to best prac­tices used in New York’s “Broad­band for All” initiative.

PHOTO BY HARRY BOSK

Josh Hast­ings, Ru­ral Md. Coun­cil chair­man, ad­dresses the at­ten­dees at the re­cent Re­gional Ru­ral Broad­band Fo­rum.

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