Tag: Sussex County

Rural Lower Delaware Promised High-Speed Internet by 2020

Rural lower Delaware promised high-speed internet by 2020

27 JULY, 2018

The Carney administration is taking a major step forward in a longstanding push to extend high-speed internet access to rural communities in downstate Delaware.

The governor on Tuesday announced he is issuing a call for help from any service provider willing to assist in closing the gap by 2020 — an effort backed by $1.3 million in taxpayer assistance.

“My most important job as governor is to make sure that Delaware has a strong, growing and competitive economy,” Gov. John Carney said. “Working with the private sector over the next two years, we expect to eliminate broadband deserts and ensure that every Delaware citizen and business has access to high-speed broadband service.”

Delaware has consistently been ranked as having some of the fastest internet speeds in the nation so as long as users live in New Castle County or major populations centers in Kent and Sussex.

Rural areas of the state, particularly below the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, have been largely left out of the broadband revolution, due to the high cost of extending fiber optic cable and wireless services to relatively small numbers of customers.

That means residential customers in areas like Greenwood and Dagsboro struggle to binge watch the hottest series on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon.

But it also has serious consequences when it comes to economic development, health care and education.

“It’s hard to imagine any child doing their homework these days without a fast and reliable internet connection,” said James Collins, who runs the state Department of Technology and Information.

One solution to Sussex County’s limited number of family doctors and specialists has been to expand telemedicine, which allows doctors to treat patients remotely through streaming video connections. But the lack of broadband in rural communities means those who could most benefit from telemedicine cannot benefit.

Farmers like R.C. Willin increasingly rely on the internet to guide their tractors, monitor their yield and gauge soil conditions in the field. The 1,400-acre Willin Farms outside Seaford currently uses a Maryland internet provider to upload that data to the cloud and share the information across devices.

“Maryland is way ahead of Delaware,” he said. “It would cost me about $56,000 just to have Comcast bring its internet from my brother’s house down the street to here and then we would be spending $4,000 to $5,000 a month just to get the pipeline we need to use all of our internet-enabled equipment.”

The lack of high-speed connections also is hampering Kent and Sussex counties’ ability to attract new businesses, Collins said.

Carney chose to make his announcement in Seaford, a once thriving town that has struggled to attract major employers since DuPont Co.’s former nylon plant was sold to Invista in 2003. The facility that once provided high-paying jobs to nearly 5,000 workers today employs about 100.

The governor recently signed a bill that many say hampered Seaford’s efforts to attract new companies by limiting the role of organized labor.

But he praised the town’s work with Bloosurf, a Salisbury, Maryland-based company that is providing wireless broadband service to about three dozen customers throughout the town thanks to a state pilot program.

Kim Hopkins, who teaches nursing at Delaware Technical Community College and serves on the Seaford school board, said joining the pilot program made a big difference in her quality of life.

“Before there would be times when I had to grade papers at 2 a.m. and the internet would be so spotty that I would have to go to my mom’s house to finish,” she said. “Now I can grade papers, my one son can watch his Youtube videos, the older boys can play Nintendo while my husband is doing assignments for his school work. It’s a beautiful thing.”

The state is now hoping to use taxpayer dollars as an incentive to encourage other companies to provide similar services.

“The issue is the populations of these rural areas are not dense enough with potential subscribers to offset the capital costs involved for most of these for-profit companies,” Collins said. “Our goal is to provide some financial assistance to make that work more attractive.”

Most of the groundwork has already been accomplished. Under former Gov. Jack Markell, the state provided $1.5 million to a company now called Crown Castle to extend a backbone of fiber optic cable from Wilmington to Georgetown and then from Lewes to Seaford.

That allowed the state to add high-speed internet at 48 public schools and numerous public libraries. The Delaware Electric Cooperative has used that backbone to connect 26 substations across Kent and Sussex.

Now the state is planning to use more than $2 million to subsidize the efforts of private companies to further extend that reach from those lines to neighborhoods, businesses and individual homes.

The rural broadband grant program will rely on about $720,000 in fees previously collected from telecommunication companies and another $1.3 million in taxpayer dollars recently allocated by the General Assembly.

Those funds are in addition to the $1.2 million that Sussex County Council recently earmarked for expanding broadband access, including money to help offset the rental costs on state-owned towers.

“It’s taken a lot of partnerships and collaborations to get us to this point,” Collins said. “And today’s announcement will take us a long way to finally reaching our goal.”

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New Businesses, Expanding Arts: the Milton Renaissance

New businesses, expanding arts: the Milton renaissance

25 JULY, 2018

During the economic downturn of the late 2000s, Milton had fallen on hard times.

There were empty storefronts, and the mood surrounding the town was down, said Ted Kanakos, mayor of Milton since 2016 and a resident in Sussex County for the last 20 years.

But there has been an uptick in the town since then.

“Milton is definitely in a renaissance,” he said.

Artisanal businesses have emerged, food trucks are a regular sight downtown and town festivals are commonplace.

In town, 73 out of the 74 storefronts have businesses in them, Kanakos said, and the mood surrounding the town has greatly improved with subdivisions being built and people moving in.

“The interesting thing about the economics of a town, a few years ago when the downturn of 2007 was really bad, the economy was bad, we were building almost no houses in our town,” Kanakos said. “Today, each year we set a record for building more houses, and when you have roofs, you have businesses. You can’t have businesses without people living in town.”

When the economy started to improve after 2010, people were more willing to take a risk on a business venture.

During the recession, when a business failed, stores would sit vacant for up to a year, Kanakos said.

“Now, if they don’t make it, that store is re-rented immediately, so there are a lot of people that want to be in business in our town,” he said.

But before the uptick, organizations such as the Milton Community Foundation had to help support businesses and art in the town.

Milton Community Foundation was a large part of the Horseshoe Crab Festival when it first started 15 years ago, said Steve Crawford, president of the Milton Community Foundation.

“We helped generate interest in town businesses through promoting festivals like the Horseshoe Crab Festival,” he said.

When he first moved to Milton in 2012, it felt vacant, he said. But since then, that has changed.

“I think we are small still, and is difficult to say directly that we helped bring businesses in, but we supported the community during the downturn and helped them that way,” Crawford said.

One business that has had success in Milton since opening is Suburban Farmhouse, a coffee shop and bakery on Federal Street.

The store opened in 2017, and when she first talked about opening it, people gave co-owner Kristen Latham a weird look.

“It has been an amazing outpouring of support since then,” she said. “We love this business, we love this town, we love this town’s people. They have rallied together and made us into such a success in such a short amount of time. I wouldn’t want us to be anywhere else.”

The store may add a new location in the future or expand, but right now, Latham is satisfied with where they are.

Milton is home, she said.

“A Milton local will come and they will bring their friend from Long Neck and their friend from Georgetown and Rehoboth, and they are all here,” said Jodi Sickles, co-owner of the Suburban Farmhouse. “We know everybody’s name and what they drink and I know what they want to eat.”

Milton — and their store — has turned into a destination for many people, Latham said, because they want to experience small-town charm.

They were destined to be there, she added, and the entire experience has been “serendipitous.”

“Milton is the place to go,” Latham said. “Milton is the place to be, and I think we have been saying that for the last few years and now it’s happening.”

In recent years, Milton, much like the small town of Berlin, Maryland, has been awarded with many recognitions as community with charm.

One business that has been in Milton since 2002 and stuck with the town through the economic downturn is Dogfish Head.

The beer trailblazers have their main brewery and cannery in the town, but it is very important that they support not just the town of Milton but the entire coastal Delaware region, said Mark Carter, off-centered event planning and benevolencing director.

“We are growing, obviously Delaware is growing, the town of Milton is going, Sussex County beach life, the whole area, is growing, and we bring a lot of folks into the community, not just Milton but all the neighborhoods and towns we are connected to,” he said. “So we bring 100,000 visitors in a year, those visitors, hopefully, traffic, not just by vehicle but by foot as well, into Milton.”

Dogfish will encourage people to venture into Milton to experience the town and see the historical society and possibly catch a play at the Milton theater. (Milton Mayor Kanakos said they have over 300 productions per year there.)

Dogfish Head also sponsor nonprofits such as the Milton Theater or Milton Community Foundation to make the town in which they are located more beautiful and more attractive to visitors.

“One of the things, I think, from day one Dogfish Head has always been about not just ‘Hey, we’re Dogfish, and we make beer,’ ” Carter said. “It’s ‘Hey, we’re Dogfish, and we are proud to be in coastal Delaware.’ “

Having a strong town council and a strong town manager that are actively invested in the town has helped tremendously, Kanakos said.

The people on the town council are at the top of their professions, he added, ensuring only the best of the best will be there helping out Milton.

Kristy Rogers, who became the town manager in early 2017, has also been an excellent asset to the town, Kanakos said, because of her ability to negotiate contracts with other agencies that will benefit the town.

Their representatives in the Delaware General Assembly, Sen. Ernie Lopez and Rep. Steve Smyk, also help the town out, ensuring their needs are met by the General Assembly to ensure they are competitive with other towns, Kanakos said.

Above all, though, since taking over as mayor two years ago, Kanakos is just happy with the way his town has grown and the responses to it.

“This is the leading edge,” he said. “Just a little town like this.”

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