Between 75 percent and 80 percent of Garrett County residents and businesses have access to broadband, Commissioner Larry Tichnell reported last week during the Chamber of Commerce’s Business Before Hours. The county commissioners gave their annual “State of County” presentation during the McHenry event.
“About four-and-a-half years ago when we took over as commissioners, one of our main goals was broadband access,” Tichnell said. “At that particular time, less than 50 percent of the county had broadband access.”
The service is now available in all the municipalities and business parks, he reported.
“We have a memorandum of understanding with the state to access state-owned fiber,” Tichnell said. “This has enabled us to provide broadband to places like Garrett Regional Medical Center, Mountain Laurel Medical Center and other businesses.”
Not long after taking office, the commissioners partnered with Declaration Networks, which utilizes television white space to provide wireless technology to rural areas through its NeuBeam product line.
Appalachian Regional Commission grants, matching county funding and other financial resources have been used to provide broadband to underserved areas in Garrett County.
The county has also partnered with Comcast and ProCom.
“They’ve reached out to some of these far-reaching areas and been able to supply them with the broadband service that they need,” Tichnell said. “That was quite a help to us.”
In addition, he noted, the commissioners have coordinated with the county’s roads and public utilities divisions and private providers to install conduit in county rights of way. This has helped to further expand service areas, Tichnell indicated.
“What you have to realize is that once you reach all of the really populated areas of the county, it’s hard to get somebody to come in and put access into places like Mount Zion, Finzel or Avilton that might only have four or five people on the road,” he said.
He explained that companies can’t afford to “reach out” to such sparsely populated areas.
“We’re trying different ways to make this happen,” Tichnell said.
He pointed out that new companies won’t come to Garrett County if they don’t have broadband access.
“The Garrett County broadband initiative has been recognized nationally for our innovative implantation of this project,” Tichnell said. “It includes recognition and funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.”
The commissioner said the county would continue to strive to get broadband to as many people as possible.
“But from here on out, it’s going to get a little harder,” Tichnell said. “It’s more costly to reach these outlying places. But it’s very important that we get this done so that we can invite more and more people into the area, and those who need broadband access here will have it.”
Garrett County Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Nicole Christian concurred.
“It’s no longer a luxury,” she said about broadband service. “It’s a necessity.”