By STEPHANIE GLEASON
WASHINGTON (Sept. 17, 2010)—Nearly 2 million homes and 443,000 businesses will be linked to vital broadband Internet service under a $115 million federal grant announced Friday.
"Maryland is moving forward," Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said, "not at a snail's pace, at an Internet high-speed pace."
The grant will fund 1,200 miles of high-speed Internet line to be installed within three years and provide connectivity to those who either cannot receive Internet access or have very slow Internet access.
For rural parts of Maryland, access to broadband Internet will greatly affect residents and small businesses.
"There's still a lot of places that have dial-up connections. This is really going to improve the quality of life for residents and allow our businesses to compete more effectively and efficiently," Karen Glenn Hood, public relations director for the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development said.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., headed the effort to win the funds, along with Gov. Martin O'Malley and had the foresight as many as 10 years ago to understand the importance of broadband, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, recalled.
"In this couple of blocks were over 500 jobs," Mikulski said, recalling that her first job was across the street. "People made good money, and they sent their kids to school. But those jobs left. They left (Baltimore neighborhood) Canton, just like many jobs are now leaving the United States of America.
"Now today, as part of that journey, we're transforming Maryland's economy by making sure that we are digital Maryland, so that no jobs go anywhere."
"This was an extremely competitive situation," Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said. "And Maryland has gotten one of the largest grants in this nation for broadband."
Officials tried to demonstrate what broadband could look like, using digital video conferencing to show Rep. Frank Kratovil, D-Stevensville, speak from the Eastern Shore.
"This is digital harbor to digital shore," O'Malley said in Baltimore, calling Kratovil to speak from Easton Memorial Hospital. However, the Baltimore audience couldn't see Kratovil because the room was so dimly lit.
They could hear him, however, praising the federal grant.
When people ask "'Where can I see the stimulus working?'" Kratovil said, the answer is "right here in Maryland...
"This announcement ensures that your address or your income will not dictate the technology that you have access to."
"You see broadband here on the (Eastern) Shore, for example, reaches limited areas," Patti Willis, spokeswoman for Shore Health Systems said. "That's a problem for the future as health care changes and allows patients to be monitored at home for chronic illness."
The expanded broadband system will also allow the hospital to send images like X-rays and CT scans that could not previously be sent because of limited bandwidth.
Leaders estimate the grant will create as many as 800 jobs now and 800 more in the future, but job creation is only part of what the broadband access will do for Maryland, O'Malley said.
"What this is going to enable us to do in connecting our economy to the global economy—so that Maryland businesses large and small can compete and win—is an impact that we have yet to be able to appreciate and to calculate," O'Malley said.
Maryland small business owner Ryan Doak said, "Without broadband we cannot create the worldly presence" many small business owners need in order to compete. Doak's business, NV3 Technology creates cell-phone-charging kiosks that are placed both domestically and internationally. "Being able to tap into this technology is huge."
For many places without access to broadband Internet, "if you're on the wrong side of the digital divide, you're out of luck," Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Towson said. "That's not the way it should be."
"We have always been one Maryland," Mikulski said, "but as of this grant we will be one digital Maryland, taking ideas, opportunity, jobs for the future to every single county in Maryland."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.