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Prince George€s County Offers Broadband Opportunities

WI Staff Writer | 3/3/2010, 12:55 p.m.

Prince George€s County Executive Jack Johnson announced today that several strategic broadband initiatives have been launched by the county that all county residents and businesses have access to high-quality, high-bandwidth communications services.

€We are working hard to bring the benefits of broadband to all the citizens of Prince George€s County,€ Johnson said. €I have directed county staff to work on multiple fronts and multiple initiatives to increase the amount, quality, and affordability of broadband in the county. In 2010, broadband is a necessity, not a luxury, and Prince George€s County will spare no effort to ensure that this essential service is available to all.€

Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grant application
The county has filed a $100 million grant application in partnership with nine other Maryland jurisdictions for a broadband stimulus grant under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. This regional initiative, known as the One Maryland Broadband Plan, is currently in the final stages of €due diligence€ with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in the Department of Commerce, which is administering the grants under the Recovery Act. The One Maryland Broadband Plan is one of only a relatively few of the thousands of BTOP applications that have advanced to the due diligence stage.

Key to the competitiveness of this regional application was a demonstration of Prince George€s County€s extensive experience and capability in terms of building and operating a fiber optic broadband network that serves €community anchor institutions€ such as schools, libraries, and public safety departments. Prince George€s County has been successfully operating such a network for close to a decade.

If awarded, the broadband stimulus grant will provide $14.9 million to the county€"which will enable the county to extend its existing network by building high-bandwidth fiber optics to 115 elementary schools, libraries, fire stations, and other municipal facilities. The fiber network will also serve as a platform for private-sector partners to build €last-mile€ connections to homes and businesses throughout the county, dramatically lowering those private companies€ construction costs and enhancing the feasibility of private broadband initiatives to serve Prince George€s County residents.

Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) grant application
At Johnson€s direction, the County has also actively sought to identify a private-sector partner willing to build broadband Internet facilities to the un-served areas in the southern part of county, where the phone company does not offer DSL or fiber-to-the-home service and the cable company does not offer cable modem Internet services.

The Prince George€s County Office of Information Technology and Communications issued a request for information (RFI) last fall seeking a private-sector partner that would apply for a grant or a grant/loan combination under the Recovery Act stimulus programs to serve those portions of the County. The RFI generated significant interest among private sector Internet service providers and the county ultimately selected Hughes Network Systems as its partner in this endeavor. Hughes is currently preparing to file an application with the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) in the Department of Agriculture, which is administering broadband grants under the Recovery Act.

If funded, the joint Prince George€s€"Hughes project would provide free equipment and substantially discounted broadband Internet service to eligible residents in the un-served portions of the county. In that event, the county€s Office of Information Technology and Communications plans to work actively to help eligible residents understand the opportunity and assist them in the application for subsidized service.

Google €Fiber for Communities€ proposal
The county is investigating a compelling recent solicitation from Google for a €Fiber for Communities€ broadband project. Google has announced its intention to build €ultra-high-speed€ fiber-to-the-home connections to as many as 500,000 homes, then sell 1 gigabit-per-second service (which the company describes as €Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today€) to interested residents at competitive prices.

Google has already experienced incredible interest from communities nationwide, and the company is expected to garner an immense number of applications by its late-March deadline. Prince George€s County anticipates filing a response that will demonstrate to Google the uniqueness of our community and the feasibility and advisability of building this infrastructure in the county, particularly in the unserved areas in the south. (Residents who want to nominate their community can do so here: http://www.google.com/appserve/fiberrfi/public/options.)