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Editorial: Wiring Maryland for the future

A mega-project is quietly under way in Maryland that will bring high-speed Internet access to a wide-ranging network of public institutions and to the doorsteps of countless businesses.

The economic impact of this undertaking is enormous because it will make vital high-tech infrastructure accessible throughout the Free State. In these days of intense competition among states for knowledge-based business expansion, widespread broadband access is a huge selling point.

The Inter-County Broadband Network includes 1,300 miles of fiber-optic cable in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, as well as the cities of Baltimore and Annapolis. The cable will link more than 1,000 grade schools, community colleges, universities, police and fire stations, 911 centers, hospitals and courthouses.

“The idea is, the tentacles, if you will, the veins of this build-out are going so deep into neighborhoods they’re also going by virtually every job center in the region,” Howard County Executive Ken Ulman told the Daily Record in an exclusive interview last week. “If you think about where every one of those institutions is, we’re going by every office building to get there.”

Mr. Ulman is running the $72 million project, which is part of a larger, $162 million effort. Maryland was awarded $115 million from the federal economic stimulus package last September that it will couple with $47 million in state and county funds to wire the state from the Eastern Shore to Western Maryland. The state is administering the rural portions of the project.

The network faces an August 2013 deadline, but Mr. Ulman said he expects the first pieces of the system to come online in the next nine to 12 months.

Aside from providing high-tech access for the private sector, the network should pay dividends in many ways for the public sector.

Counties and cities will save an estimated $28 million that would have been spent leasing space on other networks. There will be opportunities for further savings if local governments consolidate data centers and pool information technology resources.

Public safety agencies can share video feeds and information more easily and link 911 centers. Mr. Ulman hopes the creation of a Center for Broadband Innovation and a public sector app store will make Maryland an appealing location for IT companies to test their products and grow.

And in a big gain for Maryland’s rural communities, the public broadband network will give private Internet service providers the foundation to offer wired and wireless service in communities without access to high-speed service.

This project is an outstanding example of collaborative, targeted spending by government that provides essential infrastructure to create economic opportunities for the private sector as well as service improvements and efficiencies for the public sector. It is money well spent.