Commerce, connections, creativity

Officials in both Bar Harbor and Mount Desert are exploring options concerning the establishment of municipal broadband Internet networks. Fiber optic technology can provide Internet access speeds far in excess of cable and DSL via phone lines, the only choices currently available.

Officials understand that there is little incentive for current broadband provider Time Warner Cable to consider any major investment in infrastructure. That company is in the midst of being gobbled up by Comcast, the nation’s largest cable television provider. The merger, awaiting federal regulatory approval, is by no means assured. Unfortunately, consumers, especially in rural areas such as Maine, are slow to see major improvements in service or infrastructure after such acquisitions.

Additionally, neither of those companies knows what the landscape will look like in the next few years as rapidly changing technology options chip away at the delivery of television via conventional cable and satellite bundles, the primary revenue source for those firms.

The highest cost of delivering super fast Internet is incurred in the so-called “last mile.” Installing the required fiber optic cable on nearly every road and street and connecting it to individual homes and businesses is expensive. Naturally, one way to keep costs down is to limit the area covered. But the bloom quickly comes off the rose when only a select few can access fast internet.

Should officials commission an objective look at how to provide access to high speed internet to all corners of a community, fiber optic may not be the most efficient or cost effective way to accomplish that. Any such study should include an examination of all available delivery options.

In many rural areas of Mount Desert, RedZone Wireless already is offering Internet access via WiFi. Would the town be unnecessarily duplicating that service? Would becoming a partner in the expansion of that network make more sense?

Particularly for Mount Desert Island, it may make sense to look at the creation of a single broadband network rather than a hodge-podge of individual municipal utilities. Computer network specialists at The Jackson Laboratory, the MDI Biological Laboratory and local educational institutions also should be asked to share their expertise.

Establishing limited broadband networks in core villages, or only to a handful of government facilities and institutions, shortchanges the societal goal of encouraging commerce, connections and creativity through a faster connection to the World Wide Web. Rural electrification, almost a century ago, provided immeasurable benefits to this country because government was committed to providing electricity access to nearly everyone. That same civic imperative should be embraced to provide faster Internet for all.

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