Stakeholders meet to discuss broadband demand survey

Local business leaders and economic influencers gathered at the College of Southern Maryland Center for Trade and Energy Training on Tuesday to discuss high-speed internet access with Last Mile Broadband and members of the Southern Maryland Minority Chamber of Commerce. The meeting was the first step in determining which areas of Southern Maryland are without broadband capabilities, as Last Mile plans to distribute a survey regarding internet needs before developing infrastructure to service these dead zones. Last Mile president John Huggins Jr. and former chamber chairwoman and current Southern Maryland Minority Chamber of Commerce Foundation president Doris Cammack-Spencer joined forces to bring together stakeholders with ties to the issue.

The goal of the kickoff presentation was to educate these partners and equip them with the knowledge to uncover areas of need. Through the Maryland Broadband Cooperative Network, state officials received funding to build a fiber backbones throughout Maryland, explained Huggins. But there are neighborhoods and communities without access to broadband services, therefore they can’t link to the fiber network.

“Here we’ve got this wonderful highway all over the place but no streets connecting to it,” Cammack-Spencer said. Huggins gave an overview of his organization, as well as his background in the field. He joined the Air Force in 1971 and spent the next two decades upgrading telecommunications systems around the world.

Huggins’ experience building fiber networks led him to broadband, and his ventures in Southern Maryland will be his debut as a service provider. Last Mile is not trying to compete with Verizon and Comcast, rather offer access to places the major carriers have ignored. Coverage maps often show the fiber network spreading through every community, but this isn’t the case, and the survey will illustrate the lack of access to investors.

“Many of the government funders and private funders want some means to quantify the demand,” Huggins said. “They’re confused too, they see documents that say everybody has [access], even though folks down in Southern Maryland, rural and urban communities around the nation, are underserved and unserved.” Huggins and his team have already done surveys in Prince George’s County and found residents are paying £300-400 a month using hot spots and other alternate sources of internet connection. Children frequently have to complete homework online and parents need to work from home on occasion using the internet.

As Last Mile nails down the parts of the region most in need, they will reach out to those affected and supply service, estimated to cost £80 a month. “Once we identify the focus areas, we’ll have an online system where folks can sign up and confirm their interest in the service,” Huggins said. “Once we identify those people, they’ll have another way to confirm their desire.” The audience was quite enthused about the prospect of broadband capabilities and were more than willing to spread the word about the survey.

Many spoke up about the needs in their communities and pledged to garner support among residents. “There are places in Indian Head right now up along [Route] 225, there’s fiber that’s run there that [residents] don’t have access to,” said Military Alliance Council President Brian Klaas. “It’s there, and they’re still on dial-up because there’s nothing that comes there.” Huggins said his group is planning to have a complete report of demand put together for funders by May.

There is no minimum requirement for the amount of responses, only that the surveys confirm demand.

Last Mile has received grant money through the Rural Maryland Council but will pursue additional public and private funding after obtaining the survey information.

Twitter: @CharlieIndyNews

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