HAGERSTOWN, Md. (WDVM) — Senator Chris Van Hollen made a stop in Washington County to discuss ongoing efforts to expand broadband in the area. He met with Antietam Broadband as well as other community leaders like County Commissioner Jeff Kline and Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Boyd Michael.

Antietam Broadband has received over $1.1 million from Washington County and is requesting around $4.6 million from the state of Maryland. The broadband company say they are planning to build 61 miles of fiber facilities to meet to reach current residents that are unable to get broadband on their own.

Brian Snyder, President of Antietam Broadband, explains the 61 miles of fiber facilities will connect almost 700 homes, which the company estimates as nearly 1,800 people, who have previously never had access to broadband. He says the venture was too expensive for the company to take on by itself and is looking forward to providing service to more residents in the county.

Proposed expansion areas of service by Antietam Broadband

“There’s actually four areas of the county. They’re in the northwest and northeast, southwest and southeast area to join our operating area of the county,” Snyder explained “We tried to be as broad as we could and not just concentrate on one area.”

Breakdown of proposed expansion in northeast portion of Washington County

Sen. Van Hollen explained the American Rescue Plan was similar to a down payment for broadband expansion efforts. He explained the legislation was pivotal in providing internet to students for school, distributing tablets and other devices, like hot spots, to aid with the digital divide. He also compared the current push for broadband expansion to the Rural Electrification Program where the federal government provided funding to help people in rural areas connect to electricity.

He says the same initiative is happening now but instead of connecting people to electricity, they’re being connected to high-speed internet.

“I do see a connection to high speed internet in the 21st century and being like connected to electricity in the 20th century,” Sen. Van Hollen said. “I think it’s essential in the 21st century in the year 2022 that every student, every family and small business, everybody be connected to a high speed internet. It’s become essential and if we didn’t know that before the pandemic, certainly the pandemic taught us that connectivity is important. So

Sen. Van Hollen also clarified that before any funds can be distributed, the federal government needs to know where the funding is most needed. He says the department of commerce and the federal communications commission are going through the mapping process

“One of the big issues; maps to find out where people are already connected to high speed internet, and where they’re not,” Sen. Van Hollen explained. “Before you send all the funds across the country, you want to make sure they’re spending it the smart way and that’s why it’s important to connect with people at the local and state level so that we’re all coordinated and we accomplish this goal together.”

Antietam Broadband hopes to begin construction on the new fiber facilities as early as this spring with construction finishing by 2024.