Easton Utilities Awarded $13 million for Rural Broadband

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced today that Easton Utilities was awarded $13.1 million in grant funding to extend broadband to significant portions of Talbot County with insufficient service.

“The benefits of this project will be immeasurable to Talbot County and the positive impacts will last a lifetime,” said Hugh E. Grunden, President and CEO of Easton Utilities.

The total project will cost $17.5 million and will cover 122 square miles, reaching up to 3,447 households and 144 farms, plus several additional facilities located within the geographic footprint. The proven financial model will be comprised of investments from the USDA, Easton Utilities, the Talbot County Council, the State of Maryland, and customers.

Easton Velocity, a service of Easton Utilities, will design, construct, own, operate, and maintain the fiber-to-the-premises broadband infrastructure. The construction schedule with the location sequence and an estimated timeline is currently under development.

“It is essential to have a true partnership between all involved in the success of this project, including the end user,” stated Talbot County Council President Corey W. Pack. “From start to finish, the entire application process was handled with precision and thorough attention to detail, with participation from many levels of all organizations involved.”

The five-year project, ‘Connect Talbot’, will be implemented under the leadership of John J. Horner, Easton Utilities’ Chief Operating Officer, and construction will begin in 2021. Horner was instrumental in the application process coordinating and working with the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development’s Office of Rural Broadband, Talbot County, CTC Technology and Energy, and CCI Systems.

In April 2020, the USDA opened the second round of funding for the Rural e-Connectivity Pilot Program (ReConnect) totaling $1.57 billion. In a unique partnership, Easton Utilities, Talbot County, and the State of Maryland submitted an application to secure a portion of this USDA grant funding for the Talbot County broadband project. Proof of financial and operational sustainability of the project was key to a successful grant application.

In 2017, the Maryland General Assembly established the Task Force on Rural Internet, Broadband, Wireless and Cellular Service to help address broadband inequities on the Eastern Shore and in other rural areas. Governor Larry Hogan tasked the group to identify redundancies, gaps in service and funding options for increasing rural broadband in the state. Grunden was appointed to this Task Force where he shared knowledge with the team based on his experience leading a rural utility and telecommunications provider.

“We look forward to successfully executing this project to help drive economic prosperity and improve numerous quality of life issues including employment, healthcare, education and social connections,” added Grunden.