Tag: "maine"

Posted March 30, 2021 by Maren Machles

This week on the podcast, Christopher talks with Belle Ryder, Orono, Maine Assistant Manager and President of the nonprofit OTO Fiber Corporation. The towns of Orono and nearby Old Town began their search for better broadband more than 10 years ago, and have overcome an array of challenges in bringing a pilot project to justify future-proof connectivity to the surrounding area.

Belle shares the origins of local efforts, and how the two communities kept finding themselves stuck with almost every solution too far out of reach. They were too small to entice private ISPs to commit to upgrading local infrastructure or invest in new construction that would bring fast connectivity to the region, but too small to finance a citywide network themselves. In looking for funding help, they found that existing options were considered too fast to qualify them for many opportunities to improve the technology in the ground. But residents were acutely aware that their broadband options were too slow to do more than the bare minimum to get online. 

Christopher and Belle talk about the process of issuing multiple RFPs, working through a challenge by local cable providers, and how allies and local officials worked together to come up with a plan for financial stability and success. OTO Fiber's story is a testament to local resilience and resourcefulness in the face of obstacles and the value of never giving up. 

This show is 47 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

Read the transcript here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment...

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Posted March 18, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Born in Orono, Maine, the poet Frances Laughton Mace’s most notable verses were published in 1854 as a hymn entitled “Only Waiting.” Over a century and a half later, residents in her native town – and in the neighboring community of Old Town just four miles up the road – might be inclined to hum a line or two. Not because they are getting religion, but because of the wait in getting Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet connectivity.

After a decade of hopeful planning, disappointing setbacks, design work, and putting out multiple RFPs to move the project forward, the nonprofit OTO Fiber Corporation is on the verge of lighting up a six-mile fiber network this summer. With three miles of fiber deployed in Orono, a town of 11,000 residents and home to the University of Maine’s flagship campus, and the other half covering a portion of Old Town, the budding network will provide FTTH service to a limited number of residences and businesses in both towns. It’s a pilot project that, if successful, will serve as a core network which can eventually be extended to cover the entirety of both communities.

“It’s taken us forever to get to this point it seems. We started this process ten years ago and we are still slogging our way through while we’ve seen other communities zip ahead,” Belle Ryder, Orono Assistant Town Manager and President of OTO Fiber, told us this week. “It is really, really, really hard for communities relying on volunteers to pull off the feat of building and operating these networks.”

Ryder wasn’t complaining or exasperated. She was just being candid about the process she and her colleagues at OTO Fiber are committed to see through to the finish. The slog she is referring to goes back a decade when Orono was in the process of putting together a comprehensive development plan.

Families and Fiber, Fits and Starts

With just about half of the town’s population made up of college students living in off-campus apartments and the other half made up of residents 60 and older, “we really needed to draw families back,” Ryder explained. 

Old Town and Orono are right next to each other on the Penobscot River, 10 miles north of Bangor. Both communities...

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Posted January 7, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Bar Harbor, Maine (pop. 5,500) has been trying to get a municipal fiber network off (and into) the ground for more than half a decade. If local officials throw weight behind the most recent move, we may see momentum continue to build for faster, more reliable, affordable, and universally available Internet access for government use, commercial development, and maybe, down the road, residents as well. 

We last checked in with the town in 2016, when its franchise agreement with Charter had expired and negotiations for a new agreement had stalled. At the time, Bar Harbor was considering a $100,000 engineering study to flesh out the possibility of a municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network or a $50,000 study to do so for a government-only network, but at the last minute the town’s Warrant Committee and Council decided not to move ahead on either at the last minute. Since then, the situation has remained more or less in stasis.

But with recent changes, Charter has signaled that it will begin to charge Bar Harbor $45,000 a year for access via – a ten-fold increase over the $4,500/year the town currently pays. With the company refusing to negotiate, on December 15 the Town Council, at the recommendation of the Communication and Technologies Committee (CTC), voted unanimously to place a $750,000 proposal to build their own institutional network onto the 2022 budget draft review. The general public will have the chance to vote on the measure in June.

Locally Owned Infrastructure at a Fraction of the Price 

A 2019 Casco Bay Advisors engineering plan offers some additional details in the potential network. It would run for 19 miles, both aerially and underground, to connect initially nine but up to as many as 25 government buildings (including town offices, public safety locations, water and waste water stations, public works, etc.), three schools, a library, and other sites like the town’s highway garage. Because of the surrounding topography, wireless doesn't work well on the island (Acadia National Park and Cadillac Mountain both disrupt lines of sight). A wireline connection would be miles ahead of what they currently have. Included in the roughly $750,000 build is slightly less than $270,000 in...

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Posted November 30, 2020 by Sean Gonsalves

The failure of policy and leadership at the federal level in addressing the digital divide was ever more clearly exposed as Covid-19 restrictions were put into place last spring. And, as the pandemic continues to rage, daunting connectivity challenges remain. 

Yes, the Connect America Fund (CAF) II program has doled out over $11 billion since 2015 in subsidies to the big telcos like AT&T, CenturyLink, Frontier, Windstream, and Consolidated ostensibly to upgrade rural broadband to speeds of at least 10/1 Megabits per second (Mbps). But, as Doug Dawson, president of CCG Consulting notes, it’s been a massive subsidy failure given that “even in 2015, it was ludicrous to spend money to build 10/1 Mbps broadband” – the same year the FCC defined broadband as 25/3 Mbps, which means “the FCC was investing in new Internet infrastructure in 2015 that didn’t qualify as broadband at the time of the award of funding.”

And there is reason to doubt that those subsidized upgrades were even completed, even as the FCC just extended the CAF II program for a seventh year.

So as states — and in many instances, local municipalities — step into the breach, the National Governors Association has released a new report that outlines a list of strategies governors can use to increase broadband access in underserved communities. 

Published just before Thanksgiving, the report first lays out the challenge:

According to the FCC, in 2018, at least 18.3 million people lacked access to fixed broadband in the United States that meets minimum [I]nternet access speed of 25/3. 1 Of those 18.3 million people, representing 6 percent of the total population, 14 million live in rural areas and 1 million live on Tribal lands, which amounts to 22 percent and 28 percent of those respective geographic populations [even as] studies have claimed that the FCC data is undercounting the number of people in the U.S. without fixed broadband access, and that the total may be as high as 42 million people.

“In addition to lack of access, the cost of broadband services remains a considerable barrier for many households,” the report points out. “The COVID-19 pandemic has...

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Posted July 22, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Maine’s High-Speed Internet Infrastructure Bond Issue, which we first wrote about a month ago, has passed. 76% of voters said yes to Maine Question 1, which authorizes the issuance of $15 million in general obligation bonds to fund projects which will expand broadband access for residents in underserved and unserved areas. Underserved areas are those where less than 20% of the households have speeds of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. Unserved areas are those where broadband service isn’t offered by provider. The northern and eastern parts of the state suffer from particularly poor connectivity options. The money will join $30 million in additional federal, local, and private money, for a total of $45 million to be invested in the near future.

Where We Go From Here

The ConnectME Authority will administer the grants. It’s a significant injection of funds for the broadband authority, which has given out slightly more than a million dollars a year over the last ten years to build mostly last-mile connections and bridge the broadband gap. Passing the measure makes Maine the first state to bond to fund broadband projects, serving as an example to other states looking for avenues to do the same. 

As it stands, somewhere around 83,000 households lack access, though this doesn’t include those families who can’t afford to subscribe. The impact of this digital divide has become even more starkly outlined over the last six months, and since the future of telework relies on affordable, reliable, high-speed connections, states that don’t commit resources to the problem will fall further behind. 

A Concerted Effort

As we wrote about in June, the measure was supported by a host of advocacy groups, business interests, and individuals. More than three dozen public and private groups signed on to support the Vote Yes on 1 for Better...

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Posted June 16, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

In less than a month Maine will hold a Special Referendum election which includes a measure with significant ramifications for Internet access in the state. On July 14, Mainers will be asked to vote Yes or No on Question 1, a $15 million Internet Infrastructure Bond Issue designed to bring high-speed service to the approximately 85,000 households in unserved or underserved areas.

The $15 million in general obligation bonds would go to the ConnectME Broadband Authority, which administers the state's broadband grants, to provide funding for projects with an emphasis on connecting unserved or underserved areas. This new funding would leverage an additional $30 million in matching federal, private, and local investments.

If voters approve the referendum, Maine will become one of few states (if not the first) to bond to fund broadband deployment, taking advantage of current historically low interest rates.

Meeting a Need

Tens of thousands of homes and businesses in Maine fall short of even the slowest upload and download speeds defined by the FCC as modern broadband. Those in the northern two-thirds of the 35,000-square-mile state deal with particularly poor conditions, with either no connectivity options or maximum download and upload speeds of 10/1 Megabits per second (Mbps). The ConnectME authority has given out $12 million over the last decade to fund projects, with an emphasis on last-mile connections, but broadband gaps still remain.

Nancy Smith, Executive Director of GrowSmart Maine, told WABI:

We know that access to high speed internet is critical for students to access education, even when they're at home. And for all of us to access medical care through tele-health. Investments in broadband are also critical to growing the economy and creating jobs, particularly in rural areas.

Mainers Weigh In

More than three dozen public and private groups have signed on to support the Vote Yes on 1 for Better Internet campaign. Supporters range from broadband advocates and providers, such as...

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Posted February 28, 2020 by Sushmita Shrestha

There is a festive air in Arrowsic, Maine, after Governor Janet Mills announced on January 30th that the community will develop a publicly owned broadband network for fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. The community will receive $1.2 million in combined grant and loan funding from the USDA's ReConnect Pilot Program to connect 237 households, 20 businesses, and four farms with symmetrical fiber optic service of up to 100 Mbps.

This will be a substantial upgrade because Arrowsic currently contends with patchy DSL connections that top out at 10 Mbps download through Consolidated, with upload speeds much slower. Poor connectivity has been affecting the economy at the local level because it's a strike against Arrowsic when people are looking to relocate to the region. Community leaders approached incumbent providers, including Consolidated and Spectrum, but the national companies rejected requests to serve the rural community with a small population of only around 450. Rather than settle for antiquated, poor serve, Arrowsic decided to pursue a community broadband network.

Multi-Community Effort

The 3 Bridged Islands Broadband Initiative (3BIB) is a nonprofit created by the towns of Arrowsic, Georgetown, and Southport. The organization first initiated a feasibility study, explored funding opportunities, and submitted the application for USDA grant to develop the network in Arrowsic. They've worked with Axiom to develop the design for the infrastructure and, according to the 3BIB website, intend work with private sector partners to offer services via the fiber optic infrastructure.

After the approval of USDA grant, the town of Arrowsic is now determined to close the digital divide and expects to do more to boost the local economy. The town is also looking forward to providing telehealth services to older people with chronic illness, increasing students’ ability to do research and complete assignments through better Internet connections. 

D.J. LaVoy, the USDA rural development deputy undersecretary said in his announcement on January 30th

This substantial investment in broadband in Maine will help ensure that these rural, coastal, and island communities can connect to the vital Internet services that...

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Posted December 10, 2019 by Lisa Gonzalez

Islesboro Municipal Broadband (IMB) is about to celebrate its second birthday. Instead of two candles on a cake, the community has around 630 lit Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) subscriptions to mark the occasion. With more than 90 percent of the premises on the island connected to the network, the community can revel in its accomplishment as it considers the future.

Super Affordable, Super Satisfied

Residents pay only $360 per year to connect to the gigabit service, which has become part of the "fabric of the island" says Roger Heinen, Selectman who's part of the Islesboro Broadband Committee. Property owners also pay a modest increase in property taxes to satisfy the municipal bond the community issued to pay for deployment. In total, most property owners pay less than $85 per month for gigabit connectivity and the optional voice service from GWI. In addition to bringing fast and affordable high-quality Internet access to the community, Roger says that its reliability is so consistent that he thinks people have forgotten what the situation was like before the community network served the island community.

Subscribers report high satisfaction with IMB on biannual surveys. While there are still a few people in the community that have not connected to the IMB, he speculates that those people aren't interested in connecting in any way.

Saving Smartly

Every connection in Islesboro provides gigabit Internet access and, according to Roger, the decision to limit offerings to one tier was a way for the community to reduce costs. There's no need for complicated inventories of different types of gear, they know that every premise has the same gear and level of service, making billing easier and more streamlined, and they received a substantial discount because they bought so many of the same type of electronics. They knew that standardization would simplify and reduce costs and wanted gigabit service because it accommodates future innovation that demands more capacity.

logo-isleboro-me.png In order to fund the deployment, Islesboro bonded $3.8 million to deploy the dark fiber network infrastructure. The infrastructure belongs to Islesboro, which maintains it. GWI, a Maine Internet access...

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Posted November 5, 2019 by Lisa Gonzalez

Community leaders in Rockland, Maine, hope to soon move forward on the first stages for publicly owned fiber optic infrastructure. The community of approximately 7,200 people approved the project in a 2016 referendum, but city council members decided to put the project on hold until previous bonds were paid.

Time to Move Ahead

According to local media outlet Village Soup:

In November 2016, Rockland residents voted 1,886 to 1,471 to approve borrowing up to $400,000 for the broadband expansion.

At the time, then acting City Manager Audra Caler Bell said the money would be used to construct a high-speed fiber broadband network that would be the backbone from which service could eventually be extended all over the city. The $400,000 would create a system to link municipal and school buildings and key downtown locations.

“I can’t stress enough how important an opportunity this is for our future,” Councilor Valli Geiger said at an August 2016 City Council meeting.

She said Internet service in Rockland is too slow for people who want to operate businesses.

In 2015, residents in Rockland, Rockport, and Owls Head completed a survey which indicated that people and businesses in the area wanted and needed better connectivity. In addition to the expressed need for better Internet access, people in the area supported the idea of municipal involvement in taking steps to improve local connectivity. The majority of folks who answered the survey stated that they would be willing to switch providers from their current ISP to obtain faster speeds and better services.

Rockport made history back in 2014 when it became the first town in Maine to develop a municipal network. The dark fiber network allows the community to work with private sector ISPs.

City Manager Tom Luttrell told Village Soup that the city anticipates reviewing requests in early November from companies interested in the deployment project.

Posted October 11, 2019 by Sayidali Moalim

Oakland, Maine, has asked the community to complete a survey in order to obtain a better picture of local connectivity. The town of about 6,300 people is investigating ways to expand how they use their existing publicly owned fiber optic system.

With an area of 28.17 square miles, Oakland is similar to other rural communities. The town, however, has a small fiber optic system and community leaders are researching how they can get the most from that resource to improve Internet access. Back in 2007, Oakland received a federal grant, which allowed the town to deploy fiber to select governmental buildings at the edge of Oakland’s downtown; the fiber is not connected to businesses or residences.

Currently, Spectrum Communications and Consolidated Communications offer cable and DSL Internet access to residences, but businesses have only one option -- Spectrum. According to Oakland Town Manager Gary Bowman, improving competition for economic development and better rates is a motivating factor:

"By taking advantage of our assets and expanding our current fiber optic infrastructure into the downtown district, we intend to attract additional Internet service providers into Oakland, with the long-term goal of servicing business owners with faster Internet and reducing their Internet costs.” 

The Game Plan

Back in December of 2018, the Maine Community Foundation awarded $15,000 specifically for strategic implementation of broadband. Shortly after receiving the grant, on February 27th, 2019, the Oakland City Council voted unanimously to form the Oakland Broadband & Technology Committee (OBTC).

The Town Council appointed seven individuals on the committee and entrusted them with five main objectives:

  • Map[ping] existing broadband and telematics infrastructure

  • [Analyze the] potential to create an online GIS system for future use

  • Identify key gaps within the Town of Oakland’s downtown district

  • Determine the appropriate financial model for expansion with specific focus along a 1,700-foot section of Main Street. (approx. 20 commercial entities located in this section.)

  • Identify further funding opportunities for implementation

...
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