School System Providing $50,000 Match to ARC Grant; Broadband to Serve Entire County
As part of an ongoing effort led by the Board of Education, the preliminary results of a broadband strategic plan were presented to the Board at its public meeting on June 12, 2012. With the input of a wide stakeholder group that included Allegany County, the City of Cumberland, and the Allegany County Chamber of Commerce, the Board of Education oversaw a six-month effort to collect data and evaluate strategic options for the public sector with respect to the use of broadband in Allegany County. The study was funded by the BOE and the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and was partially instigated by the imminent construction of state-of-the-art fiber optics to many community anchor institutions (CAIs) in the county by the State of Maryland as part of the One Maryland Broadband Network.
The study’s principal author, Joanne Hovis, president of Maryland-based consultants CTC Technology and Energy, presented a summary of the results of her company’s data gathering and analysis. In summary, she concluded that Allegany County has made tremendous strides in ensuring at least minimal levels of broadband availability in most of the County, though certain key areas remain without adequate service. She commended the public and private sectors for their collaboration on the Allconet project—a public initiative with private participation that has enabled broadband service to government facilities, schools, and libraries—while at the same time lowering barriers to enable the private sector to offer services over the network, and thereby enabling the emergence of a competitive market in broadband service.
Ms. Hovis made some recommendations regarding the structure of the partnership between the public owners of Allconet and the private sector users—recommendations designed to ensure Allconet’s continued financial sustainability, and its ability to migrate to new network technologies as existing equipment ages.
Ms. Hovis also presented a number of strategic options for the Board of Education to maximize the value of the One Maryland Broadband Network fiber optics that will soon be constructed in the County, including potential migration of some services from Allconet to the fiber optics—thereby lifting some of the current burden off Allconet and enabling more use by other stakeholders. The fiber optics will also enable the Board of Education to secure competitively bid services, and to take advantage of such options as connectivity on the statewide network that would link Allegany County Public Schools to public schools throughout Maryland.
In addition, Ms. Hovis noted the key economic development goals that had emerged from her work with the Chamber of Commerce, the County, and the City of Cumberland. Key target economic development locations such as business parks and tenantless buildings will be within very short reach of the One Maryland Broadband Network fiber that will be built in Cumberland, and can be leveraged to attract new employers. Fiber optics for business use in downtown Cumberland was also highlighted by the Chamber as a high priority, and Ms. Hovis described the costs and potential benefits of such an initiative.
The final draft of the study will be provided to the Board of Education and its public and private sector partners, and released to the public, at the end of June.