Upgrade: After Years of Waiting, Residents of Rocky Ridge Hope for Broadband Boost | county



Historically, children have stopped by their local fire station to learn what it takes to be a firefighter.

But at the Rocky Ridge Volunteer Station, a few hundred yards from the main hub of the rural community, young students have stopped by because they need to do their homework.

Rocky Ridge Fire Chief Alan Hurley recalled a handful of times school children came to escape unreliable connections at home. But while the fire station may have been an improvement, it’s not exactly an internet cafe.

“It’s a pain in the ass,” said Hurley. “We are in a dead zone.

While the internet connection doesn’t necessarily impact the Volunteer Fire Company’s operational tasks, like responding to emergencies, Hurley said, it’s been so bad lately that staff have had to complete home medical reports. .

The disconnection persists as Rocky Ridge, located 30 minutes northeast of Frederick, does not have the infrastructure for broadband – the wireless connection needed to stream TV and, more importantly, to work from home or connect children to a reliable Internet for online education.

Rocky Ridge, however, could have access to a broadband connection by the end of 2022 – the deadline for Comcast Corp. to build cables and foundations to provide service to residents.

“I was like, ‘Thank goodness something’s going on around here,’ Hurley said.

Plans in place

Frederick County’s current goal is to complete construction around July, but David Maginnis, chief information officer for the county’s interagency information technology division, called the timeline a wishlist.

More than $ 200,000 in state grants will go towards the project’s estimated total of $ 335,000, and Comcast or the County of Frederick will pay the remaining balance. Funding will be finalized with project contracts, according to Nick Hetrick, chief information security officer for the county.

The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development announced funding for the project in July, but on Monday Comcast and county officials still had to finalize various licensing and engineering agreements and plans to move the project forward.

The Rocky Ridge Project is the first expansion of broadband access in Frederick County since the county government hired Columbia Telecommunications Corp. to assess where needs persist and how best to plug the disconnected.

The study, published in September 2020, identified Rocky Ridge as an “unserved” area, meaning it lacks nearby infrastructure for broadband to reach homes.

Other unserved areas included locations north of Catoctin Mountain Park, the southern county border – including and just east of Tuscarora – and the northeastern county border, from the vicinity of Woodsboro to Emmitsburg. The company estimated it would cost around $ 21 million to bring broadband to the three regions.

The internet has been of poor quality in Rocky Ridge for as long as residents can remember, although Maginnis said the county has taken steps to address it.

“If there was an easy fix to this, we would have done it already,” Maginnis said.

There are approximately 3,000 unserved homes in the county, according to the needs study. One estimate showed the Rocky Ridge broadband project would provide access to 135 homes, but Maginnis said he didn’t know how many would buy it.

Degrees of need

Joey Youngerman, who lives just up the street from the fire station, has a child of 8 and 11. The kids were in second and third grades last year, when schools were largely closed to in-person learning.

Without broadband access, the family had to rely on the only hotspot provided by public schools in Frederick County. And with two computers competing for connection, the device was constantly crashing. In some cases, children had to miss entire days of school.

“It would be nice if they could run it here,” he said of Comcast’s plans to install broadband infrastructure.

A bad connection is nothing new to Youngerman. He has lived in the area for about a decade, hoping for better internet. He and his family are reportedly looking to subscribe to Comcast’s service, he said. This would likely lower the cost of living for a household with an expensive satellite TV subscription and dependent on smartphone internet hotspots, which provide unreliable service and can increase data costs.

Betty Ann Mumma doesn’t necessarily need a broadband connection to complete the memorials and records she keeps as assistant president of the Volunteer Fire Company – a position she has held for almost a half -century.

But she’s also looking to ditch her satellite TV, as well as the internet box she relies on for a connection that tends to lose its signal quickly during storms.

“I don’t know about it, but I’m getting there,” she joked about her connection and knowledge of the internet.

Yet skepticism remains for some residents. Robert Eyler, who owns his family’s eponymous auto repair shop which has been in town since the 1980s, said he would only subscribe to Comcast’s service if it turned out to be cheaper than his. current wireless service provider. It’s not as powerful as broadband, but it gets the job done.

“The rest are not broken, so why fix them,” he said.

Eyler said he doesn’t have internet access in his house, which is above the store, and uses his phone as a hotspot when he needs to connect. However, he said broadband “would be nice to have every now and then.”

While these Rocky Ridge residents varied in their interest in broadband connection, all seemed to have heard relatively little about the upcoming development in their community. Some were not at all aware of the project, while others, like Hurley – to whom community members often turn for questions about this sort of thing – said he was aware of the plan but didn’t hadn’t heard much about a calendar.

As Hurley sat on top of a riding mower tending to Mumma’s lawn near the fire hall and post office – where the connection is usually fine but sputters or fails every time it rains – he said he was optimistic.

“I hope it goes really well for us here,” said Hurley. “I hope.”

Follow Jack Hogan on Twitter: @jckhogan



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