Choptank Receives Large Grant to Continue Broadband Work
By Valerie Connelly, VP Government Affairs and Public Relations
The Maryland Office of Statewide Broadband (OSB) awarded Choptank Electric Cooperative and our subsidiary, Choptank Fiber, over $23 million from the fiscal year 2022 Network Infrastructure & Neighborhood Connect programs to continue broadband construction. The grant awards will help the co-op offer high-speed internet service to more than 3,000 additional unserved homes and businesses in Caroline, Cecil and Somerset counties.
On the heels of the state award, the Worcester County Commissioners voted on August 2nd to give Choptank $2.5 million in matching funds to build fiber broadband to almost 500 homes and businesses west of Route 12 and south to the Pocomoke River.
“When we created the broadband affiliate, we expected our build-out to take much longer,” explains Mike Malandro, President and CEO. “Financial support from government partners at the state and local levels and our ability to leverage those funds, is allowing us to move much faster.”
Malandro anticipates connecting the new grant areas before the 2023-24 school year begins next fall. “We know broadband connection is critical for the families in the Choptank footprint who have been left out in the past,” he says. “That’s why we partnered with local governments to make this happen as quickly as possible.”
Cecil, Caroline, Somerset and Worcester county governments pledged American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to make the local government match. (Dorchester and Kent county governments made pledges too, but the state grant program ran out of money this round.)
With the awards, Choptank will connect almost every unserved address in Caroline County, even those outside of the Choptank Electric Cooperative territory, reaching 2,250 locations on top of the 975 households who were recently offered Choptank Fiber broadband service.
The Caroline County Commissioners and staff were very clear when we sat down to plan the outreach map. They wanted a project that will close the gap in Caroline County, and they were willing to use a big chunk of the ARPA allocation for that purpose.
The new grant areas in Somerset County will help Choptank continue its build across the north and to the east of Princess Anne and south toward the Pocomoke River. This will add another 514 locations to the 750 already covered by Choptank over the last year.
Cecil County identified six project areas with 329 unserved homes in the southern part of the county for its partnership with Choptank. Construction is already underway with new homes coming online weekly.
Over the last 14 months, Choptank Electric and Choptank Fiber have built broadband infrastructure and offered service to more than 2,500 unserved locations on the Eastern Shore. Funding from the state and local partners in fiscal year 2021 allowed Choptank to hire local contractors to work with Cooperative staff to expedite the work.
“We’ve made some real headway over that last year,” says Tim McGaha, Choptank Fiber Vice President. “We have scaled up to meet the larger community need, something other companies have been unable to do despite government support.”
The OSB and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are updating the maps of unserved locations used in the grant process. “We are likely to find a few homes and businesses that were previously listed as ‘served’ but turn out to be unserved as we work through the current projects,” explains McGaha. “We will target those addresses next.”
Choptank will also pursue new grant funding in the fall of 2022 and spring of 2023 to secure resources for broadband projects in Dorchester, Kent, Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties.
Choptank Fiber, LLC was founded in the fall of 2020 at the request of the Cooperative’s members. We expect to offer service to at least 2,500-3,000 locations annually to meet the needs of unserved residents on the Eastern Shore. Members may pre-register to be notified of service availability at > www.choptankfiber.com