Lessons from the Field, News

Maryland pushes ahead with broadband

Today we continue our monthly series of state profiles. In each posting, we discuss a state’s broadband situation, highlighting local municipal or community broadband projects, local and/or state policies, as well as current events. (For our first entry, on Georgia, click here.)

Maryland, the country’s 19thlargest state by population and 42nd by area, spans a mere 12,407 mi2 and scores relatively well on most indicators of broadband access. Of the state’s 6 million residents, of which 87% are urban, roughly 262,002 – or 4% – lack access to broadband, according to the FCC. That’s a 96% coverage rate, helped by Maryland’s high population density and and several public broadband deployments.

According to data collected by Muninetworks.org, Maryland has has six municipal or county broadband networks, in Carroll County, Columbia, Ellicot City, Easton, Savage, Dayton, Fulton, and Highland. As in Georgia (see last month’s profile) most of these are small: While Columbia has just under 100,000 people, and Carroll County (being a county, and not a city) has just over 167,000, all of the rest of the cities with municipal initiatives have 65,000 or fewer. Indeed, the smallest of these, Highland, recorded just over 1000 residents in 2010.

Of the nine districts in Maryland with public broadband, only Easton (pop. 16,700) has laid citywide cable, while the rest employ dark fiber. The figure, below, shows the distribution of the districts included in Muninetworks.org’s data set, by population and infrastructure type:


But Muninetworks.org’s data are incomplete: In addition to the the nine districts shown above, both the City of Westminster and the state of Maryland itself have undertaken public broadband initiatives. Across the state, the Inter-County Broadband Network (ICBN), financed since 2009 by an ARRA BTOP grant, has partnered with the State of Maryland and the Maryland Broadband Cooperative to span 4,200 mi2 of the state with 3,400 miles of fiber, passing 71,000 businesses and 1.8 million households, and connecting “as many as 1,000 community anchor institutions,” according to its website.

This statewide network is beginning to franchise to private sector ISPs for last mile provision. So far, the only franchisee is Broadstripe in Anne Arundel County, but Howard County is beginning to make some strands of dark fiber available for lease (see here).

While the state has invested in broadband throughout its territory, Westminster – a town of 18,600 in Carroll County – is completing the pilot project phases of its own municipal network, in a public-private partnership with Ting. According to the agreement, the city will build what may soon become a citywide fiber network and Ting, which is a relatively new entrant in the broadband provision industry, will be the exclusive provider for two years. (See my profile of Westminster here.) Finally, Baltimore – the state’s largest city – is considering investing in a citywide public broadband network, but has not moved beyond the study and campaign phase.

Although Strategic Network Group’s 50 States of Broadband ranks Maryland 34th out of 48 – largely because the state has no state broadband office, but also does not have any onerous regulatory restrictions on public broadband, the state of Maryland and cities within it are making a push toward connecting the state, and enabling the state to take advantage of the knowledge workers pouring Montgomery County, which straddles the Washington, D.C., metro area.

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