Questionnaires being sent to 1,000 homes
Kristin Harty Barkley Cumberland Times-News
CUMBERLAND — Allegany County Board of Education member Mike Llewellyn has high-speed cable Internet service at home, and for the most part, it serves him well.
But when it comes to uploading files — say, a lesson for one of the law classes he teaches at Allegany College of Maryland — it takes “forever” to accomplish a task, Llewellyn said.
Those are the kind of details that officials want to hear from residents and business owners in Allegany County as they gather information about Internet usage here.
Written surveys are being sent to 1,000 homes in the next several weeks, and an online survey will soon be available to the business community, said Joanne Hovis, president of Columbia Telecommunications Corp. (CTC), which is conducting Allegany County’s Broadband Feasibility Study. The company is doing a similar study in Garrett County.
“We’re asking a wide range of questions around what these businesses do with connectivity, what they currently buy, what their satisfactions are, what they think is important, what they feel is missing,” said Hovis, who updated the BOE recently on local broadband initiatives.
Slow upload speeds are a common complaint from those who use the Internet for educational or economic development purposes, Hovis said, adding that in the U.S., the Internet has traditionally been viewed as “entertainment.”
“Educational applications and economic development applications — like if someone wants to back up the server for their business remotely — are really stymied by the fact that upload speeds are so slow,” she said.
“… I think there’s a growing understanding about the importance of home broadband as part of an education. We frequently in Washington hear people say, ‘You can’t apply for a job unless it’s online these days.’ Increasingly what we are told is that it’s very hard to do homework without online resources.”
Maryland is in the midst of a $115 million project called One Maryland Broadband Network to improve broadband access across the state.
The Allegany County BOE received a $50,000 grant last fall from the Appalachian Regional Commission to conduct a feasibility study for expanding the county’s broadband infrastructure. Though initial objectives are to bring broadband to all the county’s schools, the project could potentially benefit the entire community.
Western Maryland seems to be “engaged and interested” in enhancing Internet connectivity, Hovis said. In Garrett County, an online business survey had a 44 percent participation rate, while a written residential survey had a 30 percent response rate, she said.
“Our survey house said they had never seen anything like that,” Hovis said, adding that a typical response rate is around 10 percent. “So there is a very high level of motivation in Garrett County when it comes to broadband, particularly the small businesses are aware of what they don’t have and what they need … I’ll be really interested to see if we’re matching that in Allegany County.”
CTC expects to have the Allegany County Broadband Feasibility Study completed sometime this summer.
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