Southern Maryland should create a cooperative to bring high-speed Internet to the thousands of residents and businesses in the region without access to the service, a new study says.
The report, commissioned by the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland, also recommends that Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties fund a "broadband czar" to help expand high-speed Internet service, also known as broadband, to all parts of the region.
"We recommend that the Counties actively promote getting broadband to the unserved/underserved areas" of Southern Maryland, said the report, which was prepared by CCG Consulting Inc. of Riverdale.
Many residents of the most rural parts of Southern Maryland must access the Internet through dial-up telephone connections, which can run at only one-fiftieth the speed of some broadband services. The telephone and cable companies wiring most of the Washington region have yet to come to those outposts, and some fear they never will.
The study found that nearly one-third of businesses and one-sixth of homes in Southern Maryland do not have adequate access to high-speed Internet. Thirty-nine percent of Charles County businesses, 30 percent of St. Mary's businesses and 10 percent of Calvert businesses do not have access to full broadband. The portions of homes without access to adequate high-speed service are 22 percent in Charles, 13 percent in St. Mary's and 6 percent in Calvert, according to the study.
At a meeting last month when the study's findings were presented to the Calvert Board of County Commissioners, Linda L. Kelley (R-At Large) said she understood why companies do not spend large amounts of money to bring high-speed Internet to isolated farms and businesses.
"What's in it for them?" she asked. "It's a business. Welcome to America -- it's profit-driven."
The Tri-County Council commissioned the report, called the Broadband Feasibility Study, to focus on ways the counties could work to bring high-speed Internet to local businesses.
CCG Consulting concluded that there was no business model to serve only local companies. Any "broadband solution must serve residential as well as business customers to be economically viable," the report said.
The study found wireless Internet was the best technology to extend service to all of Southern Maryland. It recommended the counties support the creation of a cooperative to reach the areas that no other company would serve.
"Folks would actually join the co-op much like SMECO was formed years ago," said Joseph Sudo, a director at CCG Consulting. The Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative was formed in 1937 to extend electricity to the rural tri-county area, which was too sparsely populated to interest commercial power companies.
Commissioner Susan Shaw (R-Huntingtown) criticized the executive summary of the report, which she said greatly undercounted the number of people without access to high-speed Internet service. She also said the report should have outlined a full business plan for expanding access.
"I just feel like throwing this across the room," she said, referring to the report. "I'm just being frustrated to death."
Commissioners and economic development officials in all three Southern Maryland counties will be reviewing the report over the next several weeks.