Regional approach to broadband floated

MOUNT DESERT ISLAND — Officials of several area towns have expressed interest in the idea of possibly banding together to develop plans for expanding broadband internet service in their communities.

That possibility has been raised by Mount Desert’s broadband committee, which is considering “if, when and how to expand broadband” in that town.

Kathy Miller, a member of that committee, presented the idea of regional cooperation to members of the Acadia-area League of Towns board at their meeting on Tuesday.

“This pandemic year has shown all of us how vital, how critical good broadband service is to so many facets of our town – all of the meetings we’re having online, school kids [learning online], telehealth and just connecting with family when you can’t see them in person,” Miller said.

She noted that it often is not cost-efficient for the commercial internet providers to expand coverage to small towns and sparsely populated rural areas. So, some towns are doing it on their own.

She said now is the time for others to start seriously planning, either individually or collaboratively.

“The state of Maine is devoting new money to it,” she said, noting that the state’s voters in November approved a $15 million bond issue to expand internet access.

“The ConnectME Authority is putting that money out to communities that are ready to go and have a good plan,” Miller said. “They are the ones that are more likely to reap the benefits of this influx of cash.”

She said more money for broadband projects also would be coming through the state from the federal government.

“The state recognizes that fiber-to-the premises and broadband infrastructure is as critical as roads, sewer and water to all of us,” she said, adding that the state is likely to look more favorably on projects that take a regional approach and have a regional impact.

“And we know there will be a bigger bang for everybody’s buck if we have more people involved and we can do things in a comprehensive way,” Miller said.

She said the Mount Desert broadband committee plans to hold a series of meetings to engage the public in the process of deciding how to move forward. And she invited other towns to have representatives at those meetings to see if they would like to join Mount Desert in a broader planning process.

Bar Harbor Town Manager Cornell Knight said he thought that facilitating regional broadband cooperation would be “a great project” for the League of Towns.

“I think our communications and technology committee would be very interested in that discussion,” he said.

Tremont Town Manager Chris Saunders said, “This is one of those projects that has been on the back burner in Tremont, but I suspect there would be a lot of community interest in this.”

Miller said the Mount Desert broadband committee’s goals for a broadband network are “a future-proof infrastructure so that any technology that comes along is going to work with whatever we might create; and it has to be accessible to everyone and affordable for people.

“Those come under the umbrella of digital equity, that we make sure people have the connections to their premises, that they have the technology they need to make use of it and that they know how to use it and can afford it.”

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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