Senate Bill 66/House Bill 97, the Digital Connectivity Act of 2021, established the Office of Statewide Broadband (OSB) within the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) as the successor to the Office of Rural Broadband (ORB). The bill establishes a Digital Inclusion Fund and a Digital Connectivity Fund within DHCD to provide grants to local governments and nonprofits to increase access to high-speed internet, and to assist in the development of affordable broadband internet infrastructure. MML staff worked hard in support of this bill to ensure our members would retain local authority while receiving necessary financial support.
The Building Out Broadband Act of 2021 (Senate Bill 824/House Bill 1328) also passed after significant collaboration between MML staff and the bill's sponsors. This bill requires the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) and local governments to allow joint trenching by broadband providers, which can be partially funded through new fee assessment. Local governments are also authorized to extend broadband access to underserved areas. This balanced approach protects local authority while enabling municipalities to develop broadband access in their communities.
An MML priority for the past five years, retention of local authority over the siting and aesthetics of 5G small cellular infrastructure was accomplished again this year as no state legislation was pursued.