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Hogan adds $127M to expand broadband access in rural Md.

Gov. Larry Hogan, shown here in 2020, announced on Friday a plan to add $127 million in grants to help expand access to broadband internet services in rural Maryland. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

A grant program aimed at increasing access to high speed internet is already reaping benefits, according to Gov. Larry Hogan.

Hogan made the pronouncement Friday during a news conference in Harford County to promote $127 million in initial state grants aimed at expanding broadband. Those grants will go to 21 of the state’s 24 major political subdivisions including rural areas on the Eastern Shore and western panhandle as well as urban areas such as Baltimore.

“Our goal is to ensure universal broadband to every single person in every single corner of the state of Maryland,” Hogan said during the first of a 10-stop day trip to Harford County.

The money is part of $500 million in state and federal money meant to help expand access to high speed internet to unserved and underserved rural and urban areas of the state.

“COVID showed us how critical a lifeline high speed internet access is to our lives and livelihoods,” Hogan said.

The money is set aside to help expand the infrastructure needed to provide high speed internet to rural and some urban areas including Baltimore. There is also funding for subsidies for monthly bills and the purchase of devices to access the service.

Hogan said the access gap is closing.

A $922,000 portion of that money helped Harford County partner with Chestertown-based ThinkBig Networks to expand the infrastructure needed to provide access to 15,000 homes around Street Maryland.

“It’s partnerships like this one that will help us close the digital divide for all communities all across our state,” said Hogan, who went on to claim that 95% of all Marylanders have access to the service.

Industry experts said privately that it is more likely that about the percentage of the population that has access to broadband is likely in the low 80s. The number of people who have adopted the use of the service is lower.

The expanded service in Harford County couples a private company such as ThinkBig Networks with the county’s existing, excess fiber optic network. Harford County Executive Barry Glassman said connecting rural areas would be difficult without state and federal funding and public-private partnerships.

Glassman said his county alone has 2,500 homes with no service at all. Thousands more “are below par.” ThinkBig Network was awarded nearly $2.3 million for projects in Harford County.

“We know when you are building out these last rural areas that the economics don’t always work,” Glassman said. “The private sector, in addition to the county, working together, we can really make an effort to bridge the gap, bridge the digital divide so that everyone in the county has an opportunity.”