How fiber broadband factors into this Maryland town's future - Technical.ly Baltimore

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May 16, 2016 12:59 pm

How fiber broadband factors into this Maryland town’s future

Faster internet is seen as key for economic development in tiny Westminster, Md. Ting, which is providing the service, also just opened a makerspace.

Ting set up a makerspace along with fast internet in Westminster, Md.

(Photo by Stephen Babcock)

Fiber upgrades gave Chattanooga speed and made Kansas City smarter, but there’s no need to get on a plane to find an example of how faster internet could transform a local community.

A little less than an hour up the road, the town of Westminster and Canadian company Ting are installing a gigabit fiber network.

Officials in the Carroll County town of less than 20,000 decided to build their own fiber network after dissatisfaction with the usual options of Comcast, Verizon, satellite, etc.

Municipal broadband has recently seen an uptick in national interest.

During the competitive bidding process, Westminster officials found a company in Ting that is specifically aiming to provide internet in small towns. The Toronto-based company, whose parent company sold domain names and has its own history in mobile phones, is aiming for places where there is less competition from incumbents, said Ting Director of Networks Adam Eisner. Along with Westminster, the company is building fiber networks in Charlottesville, Va., and Holly Springs, N.C.

Westminter's past and future.

Westminter’s past and future. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

The Westminster arrangement is a public-private partnership, where the town owns the network and sells bonds to fund the build-out. Ting leases the network to provide internet service. It’s being built in phases, and a pilot in two areas is online with a second in development.

During our visit last week, Ting’s city manager for Westminster, Valerie Givoagnoni, provided a demo that showed how fast Chef’s Table can load with the “crazy fast fiber internet,” as advertised. In conversation with Givoagnoni and Westminster City Council President Robert Wack, it was apparent that Westminster is looking beyond just Netflix.

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“In a world that is increasingly dependent on data everyday, if you don’t have good broadband you’re going to be left behind,” said Wack, a major force in the fiber effort. “Westminster is not going to be left behind.”

The fiber build-out plan in Westminster.

The fiber build-out plan in Westminster. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

The network is as much about building a local tech community as it is about technical capabilities. While Carroll County is known as a rural area, about two-thirds of the town’s residents commute to cities like Baltimore or D.C.

Wack sees providing a place for them to telecommute or stay and start a business as key to the city for the next generation.

“We know there are tech people who work here, we want them to live and play here, too,” Wack said.

On that front, Ting’s involvement goes beyond providing fast internet. Last week, the company officially opened a makerspace near the center of town. It’s the first of a model it would like to replicate, Eisner said.

Cutting the ribbon on Ting's makerspace.

Cutting the ribbon on Ting’s makerspace. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

The giant scissors from the ribbon-cutting won’t be staying, but the space has tools like a 3D printer and scanner (a laser engraver was also en route). While makerspace officials are going to let demand drive classes and programming, Ting wants it to become a gathering point for residents that may be tinkering at home, or going to Baltimore for meetups.

“We want the community to realize we’ve got good internet, but we’ve got other tools,” Givoagnoni said. “When you partner with the internet, the possibilities are endless.”

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Stephen Babcock

Stephen Babcock is the lead reporter for Technical.ly Baltimore. A graduate of Northeastern University, he moved to Baltimore following a stint in New Orleans, where he served as managing editor of online news and culture publication NOLA Defender. While there, he also wrote for NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune. He was previously a reporter for the Rio Grande Sun of Northern New Mexico.

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