by Valerie Connelly – Vice President Government Affairs & Public Relations, Choptank
DENTON – Choptank Electric Cooperative and its subsidiary, Choptank Fiber, were awarded over $23 million from the state’s FY2022 Network Infrastructure & Neighborhood Connect programs to continue broadband construction on the Eastern Shore. The new grant awards, recently announced by Governor Larry Hogan, will help Choptank offer high-speed internet service to more than 3,000 additional unserved homes and businesses in Caroline, Cecil and Somerset counties.
“When we created the broadband affiliate, we expected our buildout to take much longer,” explained Mike Malandro, President and CEO. “Financial support from government partners at the state and local level and our ability to leverage those funds is allowing us to move much faster.”
Malandro anticipates connecting the new grant areas before the 2023-24 school year begins next fall. “We know broadband connection is critical for the families in the Choptank footprint who have been left out in the past,” he said. “That’s why we partnered with local governments to make this happen as quickly as possible.”
Cecil, Caroline and Somerset County governments pledged American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to make the local government match in their support of the FY2022 grant applications.
With the awards, Choptank will connect almost every unserved address in Caroline County, even those outside of the Choptank Electric Cooperative territory, reaching 2,250 locations on top of the 975 households who were recently offered Choptank Fiber broadband service.
“The Caroline County Commissioners and staff were very clear when we sat down to plan the outreach map,” said Valerie Connelly, Vice President of Government Affairs and Public Relations. “They wanted a project that will close the gap in Caroline County, and they were willing to use a big chunk of the ARPA allocation for that purpose.”
The new grant areas in Somerset County will help Choptank continue its build across the north and to the east of Princess Anne and south towards the Pocomoke River. This will add another 514 locations to the 750 already covered by Choptank over the last year.
Cecil County identified six project areas with 329 unserved homes in the southern part of the county for its partnership with Choptank. Construction is already underway with new homes coming online weekly.
Over the last 14 months, Choptank Electric and Choptank Fiber have built-out broadband infrastructure and offered service to more than 2,500 unserved locations on the Eastern Shore. Funding from the state and local partners in FY2021 allowed Choptank to hire local contractors to work with Cooperative staff to expedite the work.
“We’ve made some real headway over that last year,” said Tim McGaha, Choptank Fiber’s Vice President. “We have scaled-up to meet the larger community need, something other companies have been unable to do, despite government support.”
Maps of unserved locations used in the grant process are being updated by the Office of Statewide Broadband and the Federal Communications Commission. “We are likely to find a few homes and businesses that were previously listed as ‘served’ but turnout to be unserved as we work through the current projects,” explained McGaha. “We will target those addresses next.”
Choptank Fiber, LLC was founded in the fall of 2020 at the request of the Cooperative’s members. Choptank Fiber is currently providing internet service to households in Cecil, Caroline, Queen Anne’s, Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester Counties. The broadband company expects to offer service to at least 2,500-3,000 locations annually to meet the needs of unserved residents on the Eastern Shore. Residents may pre-register to be notified of service availability at www.choptankfiber.com .
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