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Every page, image and video on the internet comes to your home computer or mobile device as small pieces of data, or packets. How fast these packets move on the network is measured in Megabits per second, abbreviated Mbps. Broadband technology can move those packets to and from your home much more quickly than older technologies such as dial-up used to access a modem using a telephone line. A broadband connection has two speeds: download and upload. Download speed is the speed of getting information from the internet to your computer, and upload speed is the reverse.
Here are some useful general resources:
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines the minimum rural broadband speed at 25 Mbps download and 3Mbps upload. The ease of basic internet browsing – measured by the time it takes to download a page – improves with higher speeds up to 10 Mbps, but not beyond. However, higher speeds may be beneficial for demanding applications such as HD streaming video or moving large graphics files.
Digital subscriber line (DSL, or “dial-up”), cable, fiber, wireless, and satellite. Of these options, fiber “to the home” (meaning a wire connected directly to your residence) is the fastest and most reliable according to the FCC.
Enter your address using this tool from the FCC to see providers available to you. Many people use their cell phone as an internet source, creating a “hot spot” (read more here), and more powerful hotspots can also be purchased. Those methods rely on wireless communication. This cellmapper tool will show all available cell phone towers in your area along with the providers that use them.
Yes. Read here for more information. Upgrading your router/modem could make a huge impact in increased speeds without increasing your monthly bill.
In January 2018, QAC established a Broadband Advisory Council (BAC) with representation across all four districts. Since this time, the BAC has interviewed every internet service provider (ISP) in the area to discuss their possible involvement in expanding broadband in QAC. This process resulted in hiring an outside consultant (CTC Technology and Energy) to obtain a high-level understanding and estimated cost to serve unserved and underserved areas in QAC (read the strategic plan). Its main findings were:
“Most residents of Queen Anne’s County have access to a mix of internet services, but many
locations do not have robust broadband services. For example, Comcast delivers service in only
a small portion of the County. And while Atlantic Broadband provides residential wired broadband service in the County’s denser neighborhoods, it does not provide service that meets the definition of broadband in sparsely populated areas. Because of the challenging economics of broadband deployment in rural areas, private ISPs likely will not invest in ubiquitous broadband infrastructure in currently unserved parts of the County absent some sort of financial support. State and federal funding programs may present the County and its potential partners with opportunities to fill some broadband gaps.”
Prior to the completion of the strategic plan, QAC partnered with the state of Maryland on a grant application to provide service to an underserved, but “shovel-ready” District 2 region to connect a neighborhood too far from the main fiber line. The project was completed in December of 2020. The BAC meets monthly to review areas appropriate for fiber and wireless projects, meet with ISPs, evaluate contracts, and apply for grants. All meetings are open to the public.
In May 2020, the BAC recommended to the QAC Commissioners strategic uses for federal CARES Act funds made available during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to June 2020 approval of broadband expansion to unserved areas in District 1. This project was completed at the end of December 2020.
CARES Act funding also enabled building a public wireless network on public lands, parks and libraries, to bring broadband to additional unserved and underserved communities. This project, in partnership with Atlantic Broadband, was cut short due to staffing cuts at the company, and the only project completed was a Wi-Fi network at the 4-H Park.
In January 2021, the BAC submitted nine applications for a federal grant to expand existing broadband networks for QAC’s three fiber ISPs: Atlantic Broadband, ThinkBig, and Talkie Communications. Pending approval, this expansion will cover a few hundred residences.
In addition, the BAC drafted for Commissioners’ approval letters of recommendation for ISPs to apply to the Maryland State Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program. This program allows the ISPs to apply without County involvement.
Also, the American Rescue Plan Act was recently voted into law as a part of federal pandemic relief efforts, and communities across the nation will be receiving resources for broadband.
See this map. The BAC estimates that approximately 4,000 residences of the County are unserved or underserved.
There are many reasons why an area does not have broadband access, but the three most common reasons are funding, geography, and density. ISPs will only provide service in the areas they can get a return on their investment. If the housing isn’t dense enough in a particular area, it may not be fiscally responsible for them to provide their service there. The rougher the terrain, the higher the installation cost. The County has no jurisdiction over what companies do; however, as noted earlier, QAC works with companies on public-private partnerships to expand broadband access countywide.
QAC does not prohibit any ISPs from bringing their services anywhere in the County. However, the BAC has learned that because Atlantic broadband has a non-exclusive franchise agreement with QAC to provide cable television services, other ISPs do not see a suitable return on investment. They would have to convince a large proportion of current Atlantic Broadband subscribers to change from their current provider to a new service. Overbuilds are more typical in extremely densely populated areas where more infrastructure is available.
ISPs are typically willing to work with you to have you dig your own trenches for them to install their fiber. The BAC suggests reaching out to your closest ISP (see list at end) to see what their specifications are and who they might recommend for this work if you don’t have heavy digging equipment available yourself.
You can help the County’s broadband access grow! Lobby your community leaders and legislators and give examples. Email your Commissioner with concerns or ideas and/or email your elected representatives. You can also participate in surveys (see links below) that show you are un or underserved. These surveys are used to determine where demand is greatest. You can also participate in a BAC meeting to express concerns and stay engaged in what is happening with broadband locally.