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September 05, 2019

Federal leaders address rural broadband access in Maryland

Credit: WDVM 25, Caroline Morse

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (WDVM) — Getting internet and broadband access can be difficult, almost impossible in certain rural areas including here in Western Maryland. But, federal representatives are wanting to make a change. 

“You can’t really deal with the needs of life without having access to broadband, so each county is different but the common problem is how do we reach those hard to serve communities with high-speed internet service,” said Maryland Senator Ben Cardin.

Maryland’s Senators Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, along with Congressman David Trone, visited downtown Hagerstown to tackle Maryland’s rural broadband issue.

“We figured out electricity to houses, we figured out highways to houses, well broadband is equally important,” said Trone. “The key seems to be, there are a lot of dollars out there that sometimes the federal government doesn’t make it as easy as they should to figure out how to access those dollars.”

The roundtable discussion came just weeks after the Federal Communications Commission proposed directing up to $20 billion to expand broadband services in rural areas. FCC officials are calling it their biggest single step to date towards closing the rural digital gap.

“You do have a lot of folks that don’t have expendable incomes especially in some of these rural areas where it’s expensive to get broadband service there,” said FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks. “It’s going to be really important that we have competition and make sure we get the access for a right price for rural citizens everywhere.”

Van Hollen believes that only 67-to 68-percent of Maryland’s rural homes are getting broadband access, which in the long run can affect many different aspects of life.

“There are big pockets of all those areas that don’t have access to high-speed internet and if you’re a student trying to do your homework, or a small business that needs to connect to the rest of the country or the world, you need that access,” said Van Hollen.

The Maryland Office of Rural Broadband is estimating there are 225,000 residences across the state that don’t have any type of broadband access. Garrett County just received slightly under $3 million for broadband expansion.