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Mikulski likens $115 million broadband project to railroad

Network will reach every county in the state

September 20, 2010|By HEATHER KEELS
  • Washington County Commissioner James F. Kercheval talks with U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., after a news conference Monday at Hagerstown Community College. Mikulski was in town to announce the awarding of federal funding for broadband Internet service in Maryland.
Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

The expansion of high-speed broadband Internet will be a "game changer" for Western Maryland in the way the B&O Railroad once was, U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said Monday as she visited Hagerstown Community College to announce a $115 million federal grant to expand broadband access across the state.

"It means over 1,000 jobs just to lay the fiber optics," Mikulski said. "It's just like laying railroad tracks."

The project also will help with jobs long-term as the increased bandwidth availability will make the area more attractive to data-related businesses, officials said.

"As we look for ways to really jump-start this economy and make sure we're prepared for recovery, bringing broadband to our rural communities is a big part of that," said Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who joined Mikulski at the press conference.

Maryland won the competitive $115 million federal stimulus grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce and will use it to install 1,200 miles of Internet cable, officials said. The network will reach every county in the state and will focus on areas underserved by broadband, Brown said.

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Other benefits of the network include improved public safety, education and health care as police, emergency responders, schools and medical facilities gain the ability to transfer more information at faster speeds, Mikulski and Brown said.

In Washington County, the network will link seven anchor institutions including HCC, the state prisons, a backup 911 center at the Washington County Sheriff's Department and the Professional Arts Building in Hagerstown, according to information provided by Mikulski's office.

A contract for the project is ready to go out to bid and likely will be awarded within the next 18 months, Mikulski said.

Mikulski said Maryland was successful in winning the grant because its various broadband interests worked together to apply as "one Maryland." She credited Brown and Gov. Martin O'Malley for their leadership and for coming up with matching funds.

The state is investing $14 million in the project, Brown said.

Mikulski said while Western Maryland already has Internet access, many areas are in need of more bandwidth.

"Think of your first train out of Baltimore, where it went, 'chug-stop, chug-stop,' and that's the way the Internet came," she said.

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