TRENTON — With the formation of the town’s Broadband Committee two years ago, the committee and the Select Board have been working to expand internet access to residents, especially those deemed “last-mile” customers. That term refers to those who could receive internet service but are told by internet providers that it will cost thousands of dollars to expand wiring to their homes to get them connected.
Funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) could potentially help connect those last-mile customers, if granted voter approval. But a recently awarded grant that the committee applied for from the Maine Community Foundation will help the town go beyond expanding internet access.
“[It] is going to dig a little deeper into internet equity [and] education,” Broadband Committee Chairwoman and Select Board member Rachel Nobel told the Islander.
Fellow committee member John Whetstone helped Nobel navigate her poor internet connection when the pandemic forced her to start working from home in March 2020. Whetstone, who was a communications consultant and worked with the U.S. military in providing its satellite communications system, did an in-home review of Nobel’s house and helped her place her router in a better spot to optimize connectivity.
Instances like that helped committee members realize the hurdles residents may go through – and the tricks to overcome those hurdles, like better router placement – when setting up their internet.
“We can use the Maine Community Foundation grant funding to do more of those in-home consultations,” Nobel said, adding that type of service is “really giving that personalized education.”
The funding, which totals $8,742, also could help bring in more experts and provide access for residents to have training to improve their digital literacy and digital safety.
At the town office, funding will be used to get equipment to broadcast municipal events and meetings more easily to bring more people into the “localized, democratic process.”
“There may be times, now or in the future, where [meeting] in person is not feasible,” Nobel said.
Additionally, making equipment and assistance available at the local level may help residents feel more comfortable asking questions to improve their connectivity or take part in available trainings, Nobel said.
“We want to be able to be that resource.”
To make as many people as possible aware of the upcoming opportunities, and for those who don’t access Facebook, Nobel said the committee is going back to “good old paper newsletters” to help get the word out.
“We’re really excited,” Nobel shared. “I’m really proud of the Broadband Committee.”
She noted that the committee started its work by developing a survey that asked residents about their connectivity needs.
The data and mapping gathered from the nearly 300 respondents were especially useful in applying for grant funding and showed that most residents in the town can be serviced by internet provider Spectrum, and that only about 10 percent are identified as last-mile customers.
Town officials are making a list of possibilities that ARPA funding could go to, with Trenton voters making the ultimate decision at future, undetermined town meetings.
Expanding broadband to those last-mile customers and reaching a new contract with Spectrum with ARPA funds is an avenue the Broadband Committee is exploring, Nobel said.
On Sept. 27, the town received $82,274.71 in its first installment of ARPA funding, with the second payment slated for next year in approximately the same amount, said Town Clerk Carol Walsh.
Residents who think their road could be considered a last-mile road are encouraged to reach out to Nobel at [email protected]