Maryland's broadband future

Stimulus funds are needed to improve the state's low availability of high-speed Internet access

June 27, 2010

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) is now over a year old. While our economy has yet to fully emerge from recession, the media's focus has naturally shifted over the past year to other important matters, such as the health care debate and the horrendous Gulf oil spill. For Marylanders, though, the time to revisit attention on ARRA — better known as the federal stimulus bill — is now.

ARRA provided the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) $4.7 billion to support the deployment of broadband Internet service through a variety of initiatives, including broadband infrastructure. The state of Maryland and a broad consortium of key local government and private sector partners submitted the One Maryland Broadband Network application for approximately $140 million in broadband infrastructure funding, seeking to take advantage of an historic opportunity to build a broadband network that reaches the entire state.

From the urban and suburban areas of the Baltimore and Washington areas to the rural communities of the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland, this plan truly represents a united vision. Leveraging decades of experience in managing networks by the various members of the consortium, the One Maryland plan would directly connect and serve 1,166 community anchors and other points of interest, including 469 elementary, middle and secondary schools, 311 public safety facilities, 255 government facilities, 68 libraries and 18 community colleges.

The economic development opportunities are endless for partners both in the private and public sector. For instance, the One Maryland plan provides private carriers the opportunity to supply service to millions of Maryland households and hundreds of thousands of businesses throughout the state. Most importantly, this infrastructure project would save or create more than 2,300 Maryland jobs.

From a homeland security perspective, the One Maryland plan would facilitate an interoperable security network that extends from the Washington suburbs to the Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia borders. The proposed network would also interconnect State Highway Administration facilities, the Maryland Emergency Management Agency and other emergency responders to allow for immediate and coordinated emergency responses.

For citizens and small business owners, the One Maryland plan would allow for new connections in currently unserved and underserved areas and expand access to the Internet at libraries, schools, colleges and universities, senior centers, public housing complexes, hospitals, medical parks and other community anchor institutions.

Yet, just as this funding represents an historic opportunity to move Maryland forward, it also represents an opportunity to be left behind. Since NTIA began awarding funding in December of 2009, over $1.2 billion has been dispersed, including more than $341 million to three states surrounding Maryland — Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. According to the report just released by the Pew Center on the States entitled "Bringing America Up to Speed — the States' Role in Expanding Broadband," Maryland ranks 42nd in the percentage of broadband connections that meet the "stimulus standard" of providing connections of at least 768 kilobits per second. However, Maryland has yet to receive funding for any broadband infrastructure project. As Maryland becomes a hub for the technology-based economy of the 21st century, the lack of an interconnected broadband network will pose a formidable roadblock to the its economic success.

With this in mind, we are urging the Department of Commerce and the NTIA to fully fund the One Maryland Broadband Network. This inclusive application does exactly what the NTIA asked: It creates jobs, it saves jobs, it connects communities, it allows for immediate and coordinated emergency responses, and it does all that in a region of critical importance to the federal government.

The One Maryland Broadband Network realizes that if we do not build for tomorrow, we will live in the past.

Ken Ulman is the Howard County executive. Also signing on to this commentary are: Gov. Martin O'Malley; Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen; Harford County Executive David R. Craig; Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson; Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett; Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold; Maryland Broadband Cooperative President Pat Mitchell; Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake; and Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith.

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