James Rada, Jr.

The Town of Thurmont is considering building its own internet service to provide residents faster service at a lower cost.

The Thurmont Internet Commission presented a pilot program to the Thurmont Mayor and Commissioners in February. The plan would be a gradual build-out of service using the town’s electric company rights of way and water towers to do a fiber-optic build-out.

The idea is not new. Other municipalities, such as Easton, already offer this to their residents. For Thurmont, it would also rectify a problem residents have with current providers, which is they don’t get the service speeds they pay for.

“A lot of our residents only have access to DSL, and the speeds they’re getting on DSL are abysmal. They’re getting 7 megabits, or they’re paying for 15 and only getting 7. They’re still paying $30 to $50 a month and not getting what they’re paying for,” Elliott Jones, commission chair, told the commissioners.

The leading providers in Thurmont are currently Comcast and Verizon DSL. When the Internet Commission surveyed residents, it found that most residents received around half of the speed for which they pay. Residents in remote areas of town can’t even get DSL access right now.

Commissioner Marty Burns, the commissioner liaison, said this needs to change. “With COVID-19, it made it even more critical that we all be connected like never before.”

The proposed plan could eventually be expanded to be 10 Gbps, although it would start at 5 Gbps. The plan also proposes a wireless network initially that would be replaced by a fiber-optic network once enough residents are using the system.

The potential pricing is expected to be significantly lower than Comcast or Verizon. For instance, suggested pricing for 50 Mbps service for residents could be $65 a month, and they would also get a 50 Mbps connection.

The commission projects the cost to build a system to be $506,000 over three years. Afterward, it would cost about $90,000 a year to maintain the system. At this point, the system becomes highly profitable.

The basic idea underlying the plan is to create a wireless system that can quickly provide high-speed internet to most of the town at a minimal cost. Then, as users join the service, the town can save money toward paying for the expensive fiber-optic build-out, and it will know in what areas the fiber network is most needed. It’s all about a gradual build-out.

“It’s like eating a sandwich. You can take one bite at a time. Instead of having to eat the whole turkey, you can eat a turkey sandwich,” Elliott said.

The commissioners are interested in the idea, but they have not yet voted on whether to proceed.

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