Mount Desert officials are considering an array of options for making full broadband internet available in that community. Doing so will not be easy due to the town’s many distinct small villages and widely-spaced – and sometimes remote – residences in rural areas.
Prices for the various options range from a few hundred thousand dollars to as much as $13 million.
Because Mount Desert cuts through the heart of Mount Desert Island geographically, and because the more urban areas of Bar Harbor and Southwest Harbor already have established networks in their urban cores, a question should be asked: How much more would it cost to create a network that encompasses the entire island?
There is ample precedent for such cooperation. Most island towns already belong to the Acadia Disposal District, which deals with common solid waste disposal issues. Other Maine communities in the Rockland area also are exploring expanding broadband access in rural areas.
Bar Harbor’s technology committee recently surveyed residents about broadband access and is beginning to explore a municipal network option. Those discussions should explore options for cooperation.
While such an idea might seem ambitious, it might spur existing internet providers, including cable giant Time Warner and Fairpoint, to improve coverage on the entire island rather than being shut out of the market.
Proponents of universal broadband are correct when they compare the internet-access situation of today to the rural electrification needs of the early part of the 20th century. While those creating the electrical grid undoubtedly bemoaned the high cost per mile to serve rural areas, that concern was not allowed to trump the worthy goal of bringing power to every corner of every community. A similar imperative should be embraced today.
Broadband internet access has no less power to transform communities and improve lives than access to electricity 100 years ago. The benefits of connecting residents here with the rest of the world are limitless. Doing so would foster innovation and help entrepreneurial ventures flourish. Other developed countries already have embraced the strategy. We are late to the party.
The ability of local Maine residents to have rapid and reliable access to the global network for information, innovation and income should be a top priority.