Easton Utilities Awarded $3.5 Million To Close County’s Broadband Gap

August 3, 2022

by Peter Maloney
APPA News
August 3, 2022

Maryland public power utility Easton Utilities has been awarded a $3.5 million grant to finish building out broadband infrastructure in Talbot County, Md.

The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development awarded the grant in response to a solicitation to which Easton Utilities responded to earlier this year.

The grant is being used to extend broadband to the remaining unserved locations in Talbot County, specifically in the western part of the county including parts of St. Michaels, Bozman, McDaniel, Neavitt, Sherwood, Tilghman, and Wittman, as well as several other isolated areas in Easton and Oxford.

The grant will enable Easton Utilities to extend broadband service to the remaining 8 percent of the Talbot County population that do not yet have broadband service, Easton Utilities spokeswoman Kelly Simonsen said.

When the Connect Talbot project is completed, expected in 2026, it will provide broadband service to some unserved 3,600 locations throughout the county.

“Throughout this initiative, we have focused on securing funding to ensure all residents without access to broadband service will have the opportunity to obtain high-speed internet if desired,” Hugh Grunden, president and CEO of Easton Utilities, said in a statement.

In 2017, the Maryland General Assembly established the Task Force on Rural Internet, Broadband, Wireless and Cellular Service to help address broadband inequities on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and in other rural parts of the state. Gov. Larry Hogan appointed Easton Utilities’ Grunden to serve on the task force.

Around the same time, the Talbot County Council issued a solicitation to help close the gap on broadband access. In December 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced its ReConnect Program with $600 million in funding for broadband. Easton Utilities applied and in July 2020, USDA awarded Easton Utilities a $13.1 million grant to fund the extension of broadband into underserved portions of Talbot County.

An additional $13 million of funding for the project came from a combination of funding from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the State of Maryland, and Talbot County.

The state of Maryland contributed about $6.2 million. Talbot County contributed $3 million in matching funds and in March the county contributed another $1.75 million to the project, which eliminated funds that were originally slated to come from the project’s newly served customers. Easton Utilities is contributing a total of $4.25 million to the Connect Talbot project.

Easton Utilities has offered cable service to customers in its greater Easton metropolitan service territory since 1984 and began offering broadband service in 1998. Easton created Easton Velocity in 2016 with the merger of Easton Cable and Easton Online. Easton Velocity now serves 4,600 cable customers, more than 9,000 internet customers, and 1,600 digital voice customers.

In addition to providing the basis for internet service to an underserved community, the Connect Talbot project will also allow for Easton Velocity to offer services to new subscribers.

Separately, Easton Utilities is converting its current subscriber base in Easton to fiber optic cable, using $5 million of the Town of Easton’s American Rescue Plan funds and $10 million of its own funds to bolster the backbone of its broadband service and bring fiber optic cable from the curb to customers’ houses.