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Task force to remedy the digital divide holds forum

ANNAPOLIS — With a global economy high-speed internet and broadband service are the great equalizer. However, when reliable, affordable high-speed internet is not available, which is often is the case in Maryland’s rural areas, that equalizer becomes a barrier — a barrier to economic development for businesses, educational opportunities for students, specialized health care for patients and increased efficiency for agricultural producers.

On Wednesday, May 24, the Regional Rural Broadband Forum will be presented by event partners the Rural Maryland Council and USDA Rural Development. The forum will take place from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Governor Calvert House, 58 State Circle, Annapolis.

The forum unofficially kicks off the work by special task force enacted by Maryland’s General Assembly. The task force, named the Task Force on Rural Internet, Broadband, Wireless and Cellular Service, is led by Charlotte Davis, executive director, Rural Maryland Council. Over the next several months, the task force will research redundancies and gaps in service and funding options needed to bring digital equity to rural Maryland. By November the task force will report its findings and recommendations to Governor Larry Hogan.

Nearly 200 Maryland state and local officials, economic development professionals and other stakeholders will participate in Wednesday’s forum. Highlights include:

• Investing in Last Mile Service — How New York’s “Broadband for All” initiative is using previously unaccepted Connect America Fund Phase II grant dollars to make sure every rural New Yorker can access high-speed internet. Robert R. Puckett, President, New York State Telecommunications Association, will be the presenter.

• Funding Rural Broadband Initiatives — Highlighting federal funding resources available for rural broadband initiatives, presented by Keith Adams, Telecommunications Program Assistant Administrator, USDA Rural Development; and

• Connect America Fund (CAF) Phase II Funds: The Practical Challenges — An overview of how communities can support organizations interested in using unaccepted Connect America Fund Phase II grant funds to expand broadband access in underserved rural areas. This presentation will be led by Mike Romano, Senior Vice President of Industry Affairs & Business Development NTAC, The Rural Broadband Association.

“You would be hard pressed to find someone who wouldn’t agree that providing affordable, high-speed internet is important no matter where you live,” said Davis. “The real rub is how to make it happen. Does it become a public utility? What is the base level service that everyone should have? All these questions and more are crucial.

“Our goal through the new task force is to develop not only a plan, but also a way to pay for the execution of a plan. This forum is the first step to this very important work,” she added.

For more information on the Regional Rural Broadband Forum, call 410-841-5774 or visit