The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on July 31 announced that Maryland public power utility Easton Utilities has been awarded $13.1 million in grant funding to extend broadband to significant portions of Talbot County, Md., with insufficient service.
“The benefits of this project will be immeasurable to Talbot County and the positive impacts will last a lifetime,” said Hugh Grunden, President and CEO of Easton Utilities.
The total project will cost $17.5 million and will cover 122 square miles, reaching up to 3,447 households and 144 farms, plus several additional facilities located within the geographic footprint.
The effort will include investments from the USDA, Easton Utilities, the Talbot County Council, the State of Maryland, and customers.
Easton Velocity, a service of Easton Utilities, will design, construct, own, operate, and maintain the fiber-to-the-premises broadband infrastructure. The construction schedule with the location sequence and an estimated timeline is currently under development.
The five-year project, called “Connect Talbot,” will be implemented under the leadership of John Horner, Easton Utilities’ Chief Operating Officer, and construction will begin in 2021.
Horner played a key role in the application process coordinating and working with the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development’s Office of Rural Broadband, Talbot County, CTC Technology and Energy, and CCI Systems.
In April, the USDA opened the second round of funding for the Rural e-Connectivity Pilot Program (ReConnect) totaling $1.57 billion.
In a unique partnership, Easton Utilities, Talbot County, and the State of Maryland submitted an application to secure a portion of this USDA grant funding for the Talbot County broadband project. Proof of financial and operational sustainability of the project was key to a successful grant application.
In 2017, the Maryland General Assembly established the Task Force on Rural Internet, Broadband, Wireless and Cellular Service to help address broadband inequities on the Eastern Shore and in other rural areas.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan tasked the group to identify redundancies, gaps in service and funding options for increasing rural broadband in the state.
Grunden was appointed to this task force where he shared knowledge with the team based on his experience leading a rural utility and telecommunications provider.
Additional details about the Connect Talbot project can be found here.