The Dover Bridge is the span of infrastructure that crosses the Choptank River into Maryland’s Eastern Shore. But it’s the Choptank Electric Cooperative that’s building a bridge across the digital divide in the rural reaches of the region.
Building on the fiber backbone that connects the co-op's smart grid, the member-owned cooperative began construction of a fiber-to-the-home network (FTTH) last year that will reach all 54,000 of its members spread out across nine counties. Now subscribers are being lit up for service as the co-op continues to extend the network.
Thanks to the passage of the “Rural Broadband for the Eastern Shore Act” in May of 2020, it paved the way for the co-op to create a wholly-owned subsidiary known as Choptank Fiber. Moving quickly, in April of 2021, just two months after network construction began, Sherry Hollingsworth – whose grandfather was the first to get electricity through the co-op back in 1939 – became the first member to get service.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony outside her home in Denton, a town in Caroline County a little over an hour's drive from the nation's capital, Hollingsworth told The Star Democrat she was “honored” to be Choptank Fiber’s first subscriber because, like many households in and around the Eastern Shore, “we have struggled with our personal service and our business service for many, many years.”
The meaning of the moment was neatly summarized by Jeff Rathell, the co-op’s Chairman of the Board of Directors:
We have been so successful over the years at delivering electric service to rural residents … Today, broadband service and Internet access have become almost as important as electric service was over 80 years ago. I am pleased that we have found a way to deliver this life-changing service to our...