Choptank Electric Cooperative and its subsidiary, Choptank Fiber, were awarded more than $23 million from the Maryland fiscal 2022 Network Infrastructure & Neighborhood Connect programs to continue broadband construction on the Eastern Shore.

Mike Malandro

The new grant awards, recently announced by Gov. Larry Hogan, will help Choptank offer high-speed internet service to more than 3,000 additional unserved homes and businesses in Caroline, Cecil and Somerset counties.

“When we created the broadband affiliate, we expected our buildout to take much longer,” explained Mike Malandro, president and CEO. “Financial support from government partners at the state and local level and our ability to leverage those funds are allowing us to move much faster.”

Malandro anticipates connecting the new grant areas before the 2023-24 school year begins next fall. “We know broadband connection is critical for the families in the Choptank footprint who have been left out in the past,” he said. “That’s why we partnered with local governments to make this happen as quickly as possible.”

Cecil, Caroline and Somerset County governments pledged American Rescue Plan Act funds to make the local government match in their support of the FY2022 grant applications.

With the awards, Choptank will connect almost every unserved address in Caroline County, even those outside of the Choptank Electric Cooperative territory, reaching 2,250 locations on top of the 975 households that were recently offered Choptank Fiber broadband service.

“The Caroline County commissioners and staff were very clear when we sat down to plan the outreach map,” said Valerie Connelly, vice president of government affairs and public relations. “They wanted a project that will close the gap in Caroline County and they were willing to use a big chunk of the ARPA allocation for that purpose.”

The new grant areas in Somerset County will help Choptank continue its build across the north and to the east of Princess Anne, and south toward the Pocomoke River. This will add another 514 locations to the 750 already covered by Choptank during the last year.

Cecil County identified six project areas with 329 unserved homes in the southern part of the county for its partnership with Choptank. Construction is already underway with new homes coming online weekly.

In the last 14 months, Choptank Electric and Choptank Fiber have built out broadband infrastructure and offered service to more than 2,500 unserved locations on the Eastern Shore. Funding from the state and local partners in fiscal 2021 allowed Choptank to hire local contractors to work with Cooperative staff to expedite the work.

“We’ve made some real headway over that last year,” said Tim McGaha, Choptank Fiber’s vice president. “We have scaled up to meet the larger community need, something other companies have been unable to do, despite government support.”

Maps of unserved locations used in the grant process are being updated by the Office of Statewide Broadband and the Federal Communications Commission. “We are likely to find a few homes and businesses that were previously listed as ‘served’ but turn out to be unserved as we work through the current projects,” explained McGaha. “We will target those addresses next.”

—Report by Valerie Connelly, Vice President of Government Affairs and Public Relations, Choptank Electric Cooperative