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Broadband in WC still up in the air

(Dec. 26, 2014) Although he lost the election in November, former District 4 Worcester County Commissioner Virgil Shockley refuses to give up on the issue of broadband.

Shockley, the former chairman of the Maryland Broadband Cooperative and current vice chair, has championed the idea of bringing free or cheap countywide wireless internet service for years.

“There are people out there who would purchase this and pay a large amount of money to do it,” he said. “You need to have the Verizon’s and [other companies] to realize that technology is technology driven. Once people get on the Internet, the more you give them the more they will want, and then it becomes a business and something you can make money off of.”

Supplying free internet, said Shockley, “would be the smartest move they ever made.”

“They won’t do it because they’re still looking at a business model, but they have the capability to do it,” he said. “They have the towers. They have everything that they need to make it happen. When you get G4 to every tower, then and only then can you do what you want to do. And right now that’s what they’re doing – Verizon and everybody else are hooking up their towers to broadband.”

Shockley’s passion project may have found a successor in freshman District 2 Commissioner Diana Purnell.

“I had a commissioner call me just the other day and basically said that she did not want this to die,” he said. “She understood exactly why I was fighting … and what I was fighting for, and was asking my opinion on several things. She was looking at it on the business side.”

Purnell, who champion technology improvements during the campaign, stressed the importance of providing easier access to a rural community.

“We need broadband in the county,” she said. “I spoke with Virgil because I need to understand more about it. I’m still on that learning curve, but I realize that when you’re looking at economic development and bringing that industry within your county, broadband is a need.

Purnell said she is, “learning more and more about [broadband] all the time.”

“Everything is high tech right now,” she said. “We have to get together, we have to get our priorities and economic development and the technology underneath that are things that we’ll be looking at. We’ve got to work through those things.”

Melanie Ortel, associate director of public relations for Verizon Wireless in Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Virginia, said her company is leading the way in wireless Internet technology.

“Four years ago this month, Verizon Wireless was the first U.S. carrier to deploy a nationwide, high-speed mobile broadband network using the most advanced technology available, 4G LTE, delivering speeds 10 times faster than 3G networks,” she said. “Over the past four years, Verizon Wireless has invested billions in expanding the reach and increasing the capacity of its 4G LTE network, which has changed the way consumers, businesses, governments and first responders connect, communicate and access the web and data.”

In 2014, the company launched its XLTE service in Ocean City, doubling bandwidth. Ortel said that kind of connectivity improves both urban and rural communities in a host of ways, including increasing the flow of information, attracting new business, creating new jobs, decreasing healthcare costs and improving access and delivery, reducing carbon footprints, and stimulating creativity, innovation and competition.

“That’s why we remain committed to delivering mobile broadband solutions to ensure access to the digital grid that is essential to growth and economic mobility, in Worcester County, as well as in communities across the country.”

Of course, all of these advancements came on the consumer side. Shockley and other advocates continue to push for public access to the Internet, preferably provided by state or local government.

“There are counties in Maryland that are currently doing requests for proposal for wireless Internet for the entire county,” he said.

As a commissioner, Shockley said, he lobbied for the county to buy a ring – essentially an antenna – allowing businesses to connect regardless of location.

“That’s what you’ve got to have – you’ve got to have the ability to flip open a laptop anywhere in the county, because small business is what runs the county,” he said. “Once that happens – once those towers are hooked – then you have that capability that you need to do to flip open that laptop. Even if it was $10 – $9.99 a month – everybody and his brother would sign up.”

Many rural businesses and consumers are restricted to expensive alternatives.

“If you’re in the rural areas, basically you’re on a satellite,” Shockley said. “And that’s $50 a month.”

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