Fiber is the Pearl for This Island Community Oyster Business

Dorchester County, Maryland, shored up better connectivity for local businesses this past June, utilizing a cooperative network to further fiber infrastructure and to light a business on an island chain in need of some fast Internet connectivity.

The county’s monicker, “Water Moves Us,” describes its region in southeast Chesapeake Bay, home to a number of aquaculture sites. One such business, the Hoopers Island Oyster Company servicing clientele as far away as Asia, felt itself slipping behind in international commerce without access to broadband Internet. But now that fiber optic broadband has come to Hoopers Island, which is actually a chain of three islands on the southwest coast of the county, the business has access to the latest Internet technology to mirror it’s innovative approach to oyster farming. 

Bay Country Communications (BCCTV) is the Maryland-based telecom provider that laid the fiber out to the island. According to the Dorchester Banner, this link is part of a larger fiber path:

“BCCTV is the company that established the link with Hoopers Island, running a line through central Dorchester. This line goes past Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, the Harriet Tubman Museum, South Dorchester School and other facilities.”

With BCCTV providing the last-mile connection to the middle mile One Maryland Broadband Network (OMBN) infrastructure, the Hoopers Island Oyster Company and other local businesses can take advantage of the high-quality connectivity they need to compete globally.

Getting some backbone 

To tackle the broadband access divide, in 2010 the state of Maryland received $115 million in federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grant funding, and paired that with around $40 million in matching investments to deploy an approximately 1,300-mile fiber network. To learn more about One Maryland Broadband Network (OMBN), and how it helped another rural community in Maryland, you can check out our story on Garrett County

maryland.gif The not-for-profit Maryland Broadband Cooperative (MDBC), which was established by state legislative order in 2006, works with members to utilize the infrastructure. MDBC has different classifications of who can become members, ranging from private telecoms to governments. For governments, as in the case of Carroll County and Dorchester County, this membership acts as a public-private partnership. Members gain voting rights in the co-op, access to the middle mile backbone and lease of dark fiber, and receive end-of-year dividends.

The Dorchester County Economic Development Office says the county’s fiber stems from the MDBC’s backbone, and that BCCTV is one of many ISPs to utilize the fiber optics to offer services via the network. BCCTV is one of the founding members of the MDBC.

Local Efforts in Dorchester County

With around 32,000 residents, Dorchester is the largest of the counties in a region known as the Eastern Shore, a strip of land on the eastern side of the Chesapeake Bay. This region has a number of rural small towns and has been struggling to gain access to fiber infrastructure beyond the backbone providing broadband to community anchor institutions. 

Dorchester has made its own serious headway in expanding access to broadband, focusing mainly on getting business districts connected. Besides helping get the Hoopers Island oyster farm lit up, it supported the creation of the Eastern Shore Innovation Center, a business incubator located within the Dorchester County Regional Technology Park. The park is a testament to how the county has integrated high-speed fiber Internet technology into its economic development plan. The 13-lot site currently only houses the incubator, yet advertises, among its other assets, fiber infrastructure and high speed broadband connectivity.

Most recently, this June the county sent out a Request for Proposals from ISPs to provide service to residents, businesses, and government institutions, and continue the expansion of fiber to south Dorchester County. Fiber connects fire stations and towers in Dorchester County and community leaders are willing to make those assets available to a private sector partner looking to bring better Internet access to residents in the region.