Rural Delaware progressing toward finally getting high-speed internet
SEAFORD, Del. — Farmers in rural, underserved parts of Delaware may finally get access to valuable high-speed internet service within the next two years thanks to a promise Gov. John Carney made last week.
Starting in August, the state hopes to begin partnering with high-speed internet providers to focus on regions, mostly in the state’s southern half, that lack high-speed service, Carney said July 24.
Though Delaware is a nationwide leader in high-speed internet access, service providers have largely ignored many of its less populated, rural areas, which are more costly to serve, Carney said.
If the state is able to recruit more broadband service into those areas, including much of Sussex and Kent counties, it could boost residents, schools, businesses and farmers, whose lives and productivity are increasingly dependent on fast, reliable connections to the internet.
“It’s important on a lot of fronts,” Carney said. “There are too many cases where the private sector’s not (providing service) because they don’t see a return on investment.”
Carney spent much of Tuesday, July 24, in Sussex County, highlighting the issue. He first made his announcement in Seaford, which recently partnered with Bloosurf, a Salisbury, Md., company, to launch a citywide pilot project offering free high-speed internet to customers within 8 miles of several wireless access points.
That was partially paid for with money from the state’s technology and information department.
After the announcement, Carney toured nearby Willin Farms where he learned about the benefits of high-speed internet to agriculture. Brent Willin, nephew of farm owner R.C. Willin, led Carney and other state officials and politicos through a presentation on how crucial internet connectivity has become to the farm.
“In the past five to 10 years, things have really changed,” Brent Willin said. “It’s allowing us to do a lot more on-farm research ourselves.”
The farm leans on its high-speed internet access in different ways, he said, from using freshly updated data to manage the effects of last spring’s exceptionally wet weather on its soil to remotely uploading prescriptions to the farm’s planter, even while it’s operating. Farm managers used to walk USB sticks out to the planter, he said.
“The acceleration in technology is quite impressive,” he said.
Asked how they got high-speed access, R.C. Willin said the farm, just a few miles over the Maryland-Delaware border, was able to get buy from Delmarva Wifi, a Chestertown, Md., provider that services much of Maryland’s Eastern Shore — and small, western pockets of Delaware close to the border. Willin Farms was able to get service only because it could affix a receiver atop its giant grain elevator.
“We had to have it,” R.C. Willin said.
The state plans to prioritize low-cost internet service for low-income families while funding rural broadband grant programs to entice private sector providers.
Carney said he hopes to eliminate the state’s remaining broadband “deserts” by 2020. About $1.3 million in state money will be used to complete the program, in addition to substantial local government dollars.
“That will help all Delawareans connect and compete in a new economy, and help move our entire state forward,” he said.
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