Allegany County web

CUMBERLAND — Collaboration among area residents and agencies has resulted in a plan to bring wireless broadband connectivity to about 50 Oldtown-area homes.

The entities joined together to gain permits and secure a grant to make the plan possible.

The effort began with a conversation between Barb Buehl, an Eastern Allegany County resident, and Andrew Cope, president of Fibercreek Networks, an internet service provider.

“I know Andrew Cope. He is from Oldtown,” Buehl said. “We know the problems we have.

“It’s really all the rural areas. Many people don’t have access and if you do it is too expensive. Connectivity is essential now. The pandemic has really highlighted the need. It’s almost required to have it now.”

The County United Way secured a grant from CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield for $45,465.

Fibercreek Networks will provide the connectivity by utilizing radio transmission equipment placed on a tower on Warrior Mountain.

According to the plan, a wireless radio will be mounted at the subscriber’s house, which will be connected to a router in the home. This router will provide both a wired port and a wireless network to connect devices such as laptops, desktops, gaming systems and smart TVs.

“In this part of the county, VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol), video and teleconferencing are either unreliable or not available,” Cope said. “The CareFirst grant will make online learning, telework and telehealth possible through the purchase and installation of equipment that allows 50 in-home subscribers to use our service.”

The effort ultimately benefited from the collaboration of Buehl, Cope, Del. Mike McKay, CUW Executive Director Michelle Walker and Deanna Clark of Associated Charities, who will work to secure reasonable rates for eligible customers.

“We owe Barb Buehl for alerting us about the importance of Andrew Cope’s plan to bring broadband to Oldtown,” said Walker in a press release. “We owe CareFirst and Associated Charities as well, for understanding that providing income-limited households with dependable, affordable access to distance learning, telemedicine and VoIP was a public health crisis that put the well-being of these adults and children at risk.

“Responding to hardships in our community has always been a moving target, but the COVID pandemic really upset the apple cart for local families,” added Walker. “When CUW looks back on how 2020 changed our approach to meeting community needs, this innovative partnership will stand out.”

“At CareFirst, we know that health begins in our homes, schools, workplaces, neighborhoods and communities,” said Destiny-Simone Ramjohn, vice president of community and social impact at CareFirst. “As a not-for-profit health insurance organization, it is our mission to increase the accessibility of affordable, quality care, which includes access to reliable broadband services. By removing barriers to adequate broadband services, we will ensure individuals and families can stay connected to medical experts and educational tools through telehealth offerings, allowing our communities to maintain and achieve better, healthier lives.”

Availability of Fibercreek’s services is planned for June. Homeowners in Oldtown will be notified when they may complete applications for the service. For more information, visit Fibercreek.com.

Greg Larry is a reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @GregLarryCTN.

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