By: Joseph Hauger
The Garrett County Republican
OAKLAND — A public-private partnership with Microsoft Corp. and Declaration Networks Group Inc. will expand rural broadband access in Garrett County.
The three-year agreement announced Tuesday will expand broadband internet access to approximately 65,000 people in Garrett County and two counties in the Eastern Shore of Virginia as part of Microsoft’s Rural Airband Initiative. The expansion to unserved homes and businesses will use a combination of fixed wireless and television white space deployments.
Declaration Networks Group, or DNG, is known locally for providing internet services under the NeuBeam brand.
“We were selected in 2015 as Garrett County’s private partner to construct, deploy, operate and maintain a high-speed broadband network in the county,” said Barry Toser, executive vice president of sales/chief marketing officer for DNG and one of the founders of NeuBeam. “We have been actively involved in implementing this plan over the past 18 months and have been making excellent progress. … DNG has developed a cooperative deployment mode to design, deploy and operate sustainable local broadband networks that include public and private investment, federal, state and local cooperation.”
In June 2017, Garrett County was one of two pilot programs established by the governor’s Office of Rural Broadband to improve connectivity for economic and public safety purposes, with a focus on communities that have been under served. It enabled Garrett County officials to utilize state fiber assets at no charge, through an agreement with Maryland Public Television. This portion of the project commenced ahead of schedule, bringing county residents significantly closer to broadband accessibility.
“Reliable access to high-speed internet is critical for Maryland’s small businesses, families and students to thrive in our 21st century economy,” Gov. Larry Hogan said. “We are working diligently to eliminate the rural broadband gap and ensure that all Marylanders have the opportunity to access trusted, cost-effective broadband solutions.”
Toser said the partnership with Microsoft will build on DNG’s existing market deployment and expansion activities, including an $8.7-million USDA Rural Utilities Service loan that the company recently received for Garrett County and Accomack County, Va. This expansion plan means that more people will have access to NeuBeam more quickly in Garrett County, he said.
“NeuBeam service is already available to thousands of Garrett County homeowners, and that number will grow as we continue to expand,” Toser said. “We currently have customers in some sections of Avilton, Bittinger, Deer Park, Loch Lynn, Lonaconing, Mountain Lake Park, Oakland, Pleasant Valley and Swanton. More neighborhoods in these areas will be added moving forward, as well as in other communities in the county.”
Microsoft and DNG aim to address the rural broadband gap for residents and businesses, allowing unserved regions to fully participate in the digital economy through access to technology and services that will empower farmers, healthcare professionals, educators, business leaders and others in the community.
“This partnership with Declaration Networks will help close the rural broadband gap for 65,000 people living on the Eastern Shore of Virginia and in Garrett County, Md.,” said Shelley McKinley, Microsoft’s head of Technology and Corporate Responsibility. “Broadband is essential for agriculture, education, business and healthcare. Microsoft’s Airband initiative is focused on bringing this necessity to 2 million people in rural America by 2022 and accelerating the national priority of closing the broadband gap.”
“DNG and Microsoft share a commitment to establishing quality broadband solutions for rural America,” said Bob Nichols, chief executive officer of DNG. “Our partnership reflects a shared vision that focuses on an effective plan to align stakeholders, technology and resources for a sustainable path to address the digital divide.”
Garrett County’s congressman, U.S. Rep. John Delaney, D-Md., said, “As the only former CEO of a publicly traded company currently serving in Congress, I know how critical it is to position our businesses, workers and families to best compete in a global digital market. Closing the broadband gap is a critical piece of successful education, entrepreneurship and innovation, and I applaud DNG and Microsoft’s investment in the communities of Garrett County.