Archie Carroll is old enough to recall how Choptank Electric Cooperative changed his life as one of the first families to get electricity in 1939.
Now, Choptank is doing the same for his daughter, who was picked to be the co-op’s first broadband connection.
At an April 15 ceremony, Choptank Fiber, the co-op’s wholly owned broadband subsidiary, completed its inaugural high-speed internet service at the Denton, Maryland, home of Sherry and Gordon Hollingsworth.
“Broadband is the new electricity,” said Sherry, whose father’s and mother’s family farms were both among the first to get power from Choptank in 1939.
“Back then, electricity did so much for the farmers. In today’s world, so much relies on the internet. It’s just huge not to have it—not having it makes life a lot more difficult.”
Her dad knows difficult. As a child, Carroll said he often woke up to a water glass frozen over and the sight of his mother wiping soot from the many oil lamps that lit their home. At night, he and his siblings would pile on the blankets to stay warm.
One day, walking home from the school bus stop, he saw workers driving in stakes to mark where poles would be raised near the family dairy farm.
“This one guy said to me, ‘If you want electricity, don’t bother with the stakes. If you see anybody messing with them, tell them leave them alone,’” said Carroll, who was 8 then and turns 90 in August. “It wasn’t too long after that that we had electricity.”
Within a year, Carroll said his father bought electric milking machines that boosted production. In 1947, his dad built an electrified milking parlor with greater automation and safety.
“There were many factors that were made so much better with electricity,” said Carroll, a lifelong Choptank member. “It’s strange to me that my daughter does not have internet since they’re just off a main thoroughfare.”
Choptank got top-drawer recognition at the ribbon-cutting, with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan presenting a citation marking the co-op’s commitment to expanding broadband access on the state’s Eastern Shore.
“Our real goal is to change the quality of life for rural members,” said Mike Malandro, Choptank president and CEO.
The Hollingworths, like many rural residents, struggled for years to get reliable high-speed internet to carry on their day-to-day activities. That included running a trucking business at their home property, for which they had to purchase an expensive T1 line for voice and data.
“Comcast would always say if we got 20 houses to sign up, they would provide service,” said Sherry. “It’s been 15 years. The neighborhood has tried to convince them to do it, but they never ever did.”
She said Choptank Fiber will allow them to do their business, banking, doctor appointments, shopping and, most importantly, family visits online. Her father lives in a retirement community with high-speed connectivity. One son is moving to San Francisco. Another lives outside Baltimore. Plus, regular check-ins with the grandchildren, who they hope may extend their visits if there’s broadband for school.
“Communicating with the grandchildren—that’s the bright side of the story,” said Gordon. “We’ve been waiting patiently.”
Adds Sherry, “If we didn’t have the pandemic, we’d probably have a party.”
Watch the full ribbon-cutting of Choptank Electric’s first broadband connection:
Cathy Cash is a staff writer at NRECA.