Sussex Broadband Workshop

Broadband touted as potential economic engine for Sussex County

photo of workshop participantsWorkshop attendees use automated-polling technology to register their preferences for broadband applications.On July 17, nearly 50 participants in the workshop Broadband Opportunities for Sussex County identified potential opportunities for public-private partnerships and regional coordination to advance the expansion of broadband infrastructure and service offerings in Sussex County and Delaware. The workshop was held at the Elbert N. and Ann V. Carvel Research & Education Center on the University’s Georgetown campus.

Workshop organizer Troy Mix, assistant policy scientist with the Institute for Public Administration (IPA), opened the workshop by saying, “Rural areas such as Sussex County face major impediments to broadband deployment, but there are significant opportunities for businesses, households, and governments to benefit from broadband applications.”

The federal stimulus package targets $7 billion for broadband initiatives, and the gathered group of business, government, and higher education officials from Sussex County and the region plans to capture a share of those funds and strengthen the regional economy in the process.

photo of Patrick Mitchell

Patrick Mitchell provides an overview of the Maryland Broadband Cooperative’s history and ongoing activities.

“Businesses require the utmost connectivity. When it comes to attracting and retaining employers, regions offering widespread access to fast Internet connections have a competitive edge over those with lagging connection speeds and spotty broadband coverage,” said Julie Wheatley, director of Sussex County Economic Development, stressing the importance of broadband for economic prosperity.

The workshop discussion identified major rural-broadband policy issues including supply, demand, and measurement. Broadband infrastructure has typically been deployed more slowly in rural areas than it has in suburban and urban regions. Figures from the 2009 Pew Internet & American Life Project report that 46 percent of rural households use a broadband Internet connection, compared to 67 percent of non-rural households, and no national broadband map yet exists to comprehensively assess the extent and location of gaps in coverage. 

Patrick Mitchell, president and CEO of the Maryland Broadband Cooperative, recounted the development and ongoing activities of his organization, which has been successful in leveraging federal, state, and private funds to construct an open-access, fiber-optic network across areas of eastern, southern, and western Maryland. 

photo of workshop participantsSecretary James Sills, III, and Robert O’Brien participate on a panel focused on moving broadband forward in Sussex.Delaware’s chief information officer, Secretary James Sills, III, and Robert O’Brien, executive vice president of Sequentus International, participated with Mitchell in discussing options for enhancing broadband offerings in Delaware.

“Today’s workshop was an excellent first step in exploring the issues and opportunities related to expanding broadband access and availability. Future conversations will be critical to ensure that investments in broadband make the most positive impact on Delaware’s economic vitality and quality of life,” said Sills in addressing a potential path forward for broadband policy discussions.

Bryant Baker, a program manager with Delaware’s Department of Technology & Information, discussed broadband funding programs authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and identified the development of a state broadband plan and map as a priority for Delaware. Other priorities include enhancing first-responder communication systems and enabling interactive, distance-learning opportunities.

Jennifer Antonelli of Mediacom Communications and Thomas Worley of Comcast said that their respective firms serve broadband to significant portions of the county, but they acknowledged that gaps in infrastructure deployment and service adoption persist, due to factors such as low population densities and limited interest in or knowledge of potential uses for high-speed connections.

IPA manages the Sussex Broadband project and hosted the workshop as part of the University’s Coastal Community Enhancement Initiative—a collaborative approach among the College of Agriculture & Natural Resources, the College of Earth, Ocean & Environment, and the College of Education & Public Policy that focuses on growth, land use, and environmental impacts in Southern Delaware. 

For more information, contact the project coordinator Troy Mix. Visit the Sussex Broadband website or follow Twitter updates @sussexbroadband.

photos by Nicole Minni