Over the past few years, many cities in the rural state of Maine have begun exploring ways to improve local connectivity. Following in their footsteps, Biddeford has recently released a Request for Proposals (RFP) to assess Internet access in the community and develop a Broadband Plan. The RFP specifically notes this plan should include information on increasing digital inclusion in the city. Proposals are due April 26th.
Background on Biddeford
Biddeford (pop. 21,000) lies 15 miles south of Portland along the coast of Maine. Throughout much of the city’s history, textile mills were a major part of the local economy. After the decline of the textile industry in the region, the city redeveloped many of the abandoned mills and made attempts to revitalize the downtown area, resulting in a robust arts and food scene that belies the city’s modest size. (Eater even named a Biddeford restaurant as one of the “18 Best New Restaurants in America.”) These efforts, as well as a lower cost of living, have helped attract younger people to the area, making Biddeford Maine’s "youngest city" with a median age of 35.
Although broadband is available to most of the city, local connectivity has room for improvement. According to Federal Communications Commission data from 2017, nearly half of all Biddeford residents only have access to broadband from one provider, and no provider offers gigabit speeds within the city. Currently, Biddeford has two free Wi-Fi hotspots in its downtown area — the result of a partnership with private companies, including GWI, a Biddeford-based Internet access provider, and Axiom Technologies, a broadband company out of Machias, Maine.
Biddeford is looking for a consultant to create a Broadband Plan for the city that:
- Identifies existing high-speed Internet assets in the City,
- Identifies areas of the City lacking adequate high-speed Internet service, where augmented high-speed Internet service will be required to meet the demands of future “smart” infrastructure
- Identifies the need for greater access to high-speed Internet and computer equipment for low-to-moderate income individuals and families that will promote Digital Inclusion
The selected consultant will be expected to meet with city staff and the Biddeford Broadband Team, which was created to monitor the project, and to hold a public meeting. They should also provide a written Broadband Plan that includes:
- Graphic and written representation of high speed Internet assets in the City . . .
- Recommendations (in graphic and/or written form) of areas of the City likely to require expansion of high-speed service and the most appropriate download and upload speeds to satisfy future demand. This may include low-to-moderate income neighborhoods
- Recommendations for enhanced Digital Inclusion of low-to-moderate income households,
- Summary of public comments and input
Funding for the plan comes from a $15,000 grant from the Maine Community Foundation, a charitable nonprofit that finances projects throughout the state.
The deadline to submit a proposal is Friday, April 26th. Biddeford will announce which proposal it has selected on Friday, May 10th, after the Broadband Team and city staff review submissions. Proposals will be evaluated based on the consultant’s experience and expertise, the services they plan to provide, and the relative cost, among other things
Maine Communities Doubling Down on Broadband
Biddeford is just one of many Maine communities that are taking Internet access into their own hands. Nearby, Sanford has begun construction on a broadband network that will connect area businesses and community anchor institutions. Once completed, it will be the largest community fiber network in the state. Further north, the two towns of Baileyville and Calais have joined forces to create the Downeast Broadband Authority, which is deploying a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network in the region. Yet more communities, such as Cumberland County, are still in the planning stages of improving local connectivity.