Pictured: Eric Robison, Mark Stutzman, Michelle Ross, Mayor Peggy Jamison, and Fred Gregg.
OAKLAND - The Greater Oakland Business Association (GOBA), through the Economic Vitality committee has been working to bring expanded broadband service to Oakland. The team is putting out a Request For Information (RFI) to internet service providers asking them to propose economical solutions to supply 1 gigabit of broadband service to all customers covering one square mile to include properties stretching from The Genus Center on 3rd Street to just past Burger King on Oak Street, parts of High Street, and the commercial district along Memorial Drive.
“We saw an opportunity to attract new business and upgrade existing internet service for businesses in Oakland,” said Fred Gregg, GOBA President. “This is something many businesses need and expect when looking for modern commercial properties.” Gregg is not alone in his thinking as broadband service has become a major focus of rural development all the way up to the Governor's office. It was a highly popular breakout session at December's Rural Maryland Council Summit held in Annapolis last year. A capacity crowd was anxious to learn ways to improve service in their communities and using connectivity to their economic advantage.
The plan to increase broadband services emerged from a desire to provide free wifi for Downtown Oakland customers which the committee viewed as an attraction for shoppers, visitors, and restaurant patrons. This interest was intended to serve a rise in people using smart phones, devices, and internet connected portable hardware as part of their daily lives and activities. As the Economic Vitality Committee dove into the logistics further they came to the conclusion that it would make more sense to offer faster broadband and greater capacity to the business community which could then be shared with their customers, according to Committee Member, Eric Robison. “Businesses will have enough bandwidth to offer free wifi without slowing their own uses. Rather than wifi coming from one generic source, customers will identify their free service with a particular business they are patronizing.”
Robison and Mark Stutzman have been advocating for expanding Garrett County's broadband network as part of their organization’s economic initiative called Adventure Capital. They’re looking to pull broadband-based industries into the county from high-priced metro areas such as Baltimore, Montgomery County, Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia. With connectivity at the center of the initiative, they are anxious to see this happen in Downtown Oakland. “This opens up second-story real estate for these types of businesses,” Stutzman said. “The added benefit is locating workforce within our shopping and restaurant district. They will naturally grow together to enliven the downtown area."
Garrett County Economic Development and Department of Technology and Communications (DoTCom) staff assisted with the development of the RFI. DoTCom’s Nathaniel Watkins guided the group and Garrett County Economic Development to locate accessible fiber to supply the additional bandwidth. With major lines already in place within the desired area, it would be a matter of connecting businesses to the high-speed fiber. “This was not a stretch of an idea,” shared Watkins. “We wanted to go big and offer an impressive 1 gigabit service that would meet and in many cases exceed 21st Century business needs.”
"Having high-speed internet access can improve daily operations at most any business,” explains Pat Kane, Committee Member. “Unless you’ve experienced high-speed connection, you may not realize how it improves productivity and work flow.” Upload and download speeds are lightning fast with the service the committee is asking for, according to Kane, making processing credit card sales, data processing, using online applications, managing large files, and other internet activities smooth and without buffering or delays. “This kind of service puts Oakland on the map in a big way and is a great selling point for property sales and leasing.”
The RFI will request submissions from interested internet service providers to make their best offer to service over 250 identified commercial properties in Oakland. They will also be asked to consider expanding their service’s reach to offer similar packages with other Garrett County municipalities. “We’re looking at this as another important step in expanding the larger high-speed internet footprint,” said Cheryl DeBerry, Garrett County Economic Development. “We are anxious to see what kind of affordable plans are submitted so this can be replicated in municipalities throughout the county.”
The town of Oakland is already home to the county's largest concentration of commercial property making the broadband project a natural first location, according to the committee. It stands to benefit the greatest number of merchants, services, offices, and institutions. Once a final offer is accepted, businesses will have access to highly-competitive broadband service found in major metro areas. “It’s really exciting to think that Oakland can offer service readily found in more developed areas of the state,” said Committee Member, Remington Friend. “There’s no reason our rural community can’t be on the same level as our urban counterparts.”
Once provider plans are received, the committee will review the best options and then put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) for any internet service provider to bid on the actual connection and installations.
The RFI is available at oaklandmd.com and responses are due by Wednesday, February, 28, 2018.