Tag: "maine"

Posted May 3, 2017 by Lisa Gonzalez

Today in the Maine Legislature, the Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology voted unanimously to stop LD 1516, a bill that would restrict local telecommunications authority. After Tuesday's compelling testimony, when it was time for a Wednesday vote, LD 1516’s sponsor moved the bill be shelved.

Engaging Testimony

On Tuesday, May 2nd, the Committee of Senators and Representatives met to listen to testimony on the bill. We’ve provided audio of the public hearing.

South Portland, Islesboro, the Sanford Regional Economic Growth Council, and Rockport all sent experts with knowledge about developing public projects to testify in opposition to the bill. Representatives from GWI (the ISP working with several local communities that have invested in their own Internet infrastructure), the Maine Municipal Association, and the Mayors’ Coalition also testified against LD 1516.

Communities where publicly owned fiber is already improving local connectivity provided stories of how they tried unsuccessfully to work with incumbents. Page Classon from Islesboro described how incumbent proposals could be described as, “You pay for it, we own it, we charge you what we charge everyone else.” LD 1516 requires local referendums for such investments and Classon balked at taking such a proposal to the voters.

In South Portland, the city paid for construction of its open access fiber-optic network with general fund reserves. The language in LD 1516 restricts communities to funding through revenue bonds but South Portland uses its network to offer free Wi-Fi and to improve connectivity for municipal facilities. Under LD 1516, they would not have been able to make the investment.

Rick Bates from Rockport testified that the bill would force municipalities to contend with restrictions that legacy providers will never face and how those restrictions will not solve the problem of connecting rural Maine. Bates also took the opportunity to point out that organizations such as the Taxpayer Protection Alliance relies on misinformation and incorrect data, such as their erroneous assertion that Rockport has debt for its FTTH project.

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Posted April 27, 2017 by Lisa Gonzalez

Earlier this week, we learned that a bill in the Maine House of Representatives had been introduced that would steal local telecommunication authority from communities working to improve their connectivity. LD 1516 / HP 1040 was assigned to the House Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee and is scheduled for a hearing on May 2nd at 1 p.m.

No Barriers...Yet

Maine is a mostly rural state that doesn’t draw much investment from national cable and telephone companies, so in the past few years local folks have started taking steps to improve Internet access for themselves. Their efforts have gotten the attention of the big corporations that fear competition and, since Maine doesn’t have restrictions on municipal networks, it appears to be one of the next targets. Rep. Nathan Wadsworth’s bill imposes a number of restrictions that threaten to derail current or proposed projects to bring better connectivity to several Maine communities. 

The bill is deceivingly titled “An Act To Encourage Broadband Development through Private Investment,” but it will discourage any new investment that may attract new entrants to Maine.

Let Them Know What You're Thinking

If you want to contact members of the committee and tell them that this bill will discourage investment, rather than encourage it, contact information for all the members is available here. The best time to stop a bill is early in committee. If one of these elected officials represents you, be sure to let them know.

Posted April 25, 2017 by Lisa Gonzalez

Maine is the latest battleground for local telecommunications authority. A bill in the state’s House of Representatives threatens to halt investment in “The Pine Tree State” at a time when local communities are taking steps to improve their own connectivity.

"I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means"

Rep. Nathan Wadsworth (R-Hiram) introduced HP 1040; it has yet to be assigned to a committee. Like most other bills we’ve seen that intend to protect the interests of the big national incumbent providers, this one also has a misleading title: “An Act To Encourage Broadband Development through Private Investment.” Realistically, the bill would result in less investment by discouraging a whole sector - local communities - from making Internet infrastructure investment. 

Large national companies have thus far chosen not to invest in many Maine communities because, especially in the rural areas, they just aren’t densely populated. In places like Islesboro and Rockport, where residents and businesses needed better connectivity to participate in the 21st century economy, locals realized waiting for the big incumbents was too big a gamble. They exercised local authority and invested in the infrastructure to attract other providers for a boost to economic development, education, and quality of life.

Not The Way To Do This

If HP 1040 passes, the community will first have to meet a laundry list of requirements before they can exercise their right to invest in broadband infrastructure.

HP 1040 contains many of the same components we see in similar bills. Municipalities are only given permission to offer telecommunications services if they meet those strict requirements: geographic restrictions on service areas, strict requirements on multiple public hearings including when they will be held and what will be discussed, the content and timelines of feasibility studies, and there must be a referendum.

The bill also dictates financial requirements regarding bonding, pricing, and rate changes. Municipalities cannot receive distributions under Maine’s universal service fund.

As one of the remaining states...

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Posted April 12, 2017 by Hannah Trostle

Better conduit policy and One Touch Make Ready (OTMR) are two approaches seeing the state legislative limelight recently. With local examples to offer guidance, a few state lawmakers are attempting to implement similar rules.

State Governments Follow Local Leads

Local communities know their needs best and are best poised to make local decisions. Some have used new conduit policies like in Mount Vernon, Washington. The community's ordinances require developers to install additional conduit during construction and then deed the conduit to the city. The additional expense is minimal and the additional asset makes the property Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) capable, driving up its value. Developers don't consider the ordinance a burden.

Other communities have passed ordinances for OTMR. When Louisville, Kentucky, adopted OTMR to speed up deployment for new entrants, AT&T sued to stop the city, claiming that the FCC had jurisdiction over such decisions. In October 2016, however, the agency let the parties know that Louisville had opted out of federal pole attachment rules at an earlier date. Nashville, Tennessee, passed OTMR also and has also had to deal with incumbent lawsuits.

The overall goal is to make new networks less time-consuming and resource intensive to deploy. It also keeps communities free of constant construction noise and reduces traffic disruption, thereby improving the quality of life during the deployment. When an approach works on the local level, state lawmakers often want to reproduce it on a broader scale.

seal-maine_0.png At a time when the state is strapped for funding, a West Virginia bill (3093...

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Posted February 18, 2017 by Lisa Gonzalez

 

The Maine Broadband Coalition recently released a video on the value of fast, affordable, reliable connectivity in Maine. The group focuses on different needs in Maine and how better Internet access improves small business, home healthcare, education, and general quality of life.

 

The organization describes itself as:

[A]n informal federation of public policy professionals, educational institutions, businesses, non-profit organizations and individuals who care deeply about Maine’s economic future. An important purpose of the MBC is to assemble cogent, fact-based information to help public policy makers and Maine citizens make the best choices about building a robust and productive information technology infrastructure — decisions we are all facing right now. We welcome one and all to this effort.

In the video, they visit a couple of communities, including Islesboro, one of the communities that we've covered that has invested in publicly owned Internet infrastructure.

Check out the video fro the Maine Broadband Coalition:

Posted October 4, 2016 by Lisa Gonzalez

Sanford, Maine’s plan to build a municipal open access fiber-optic network just got the shot in the arm it needs to move forward. On September 27th, the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) awarded the community $769,000 in grant funding to complete the $1.5 million project.

Mightiest Muni In Maine

About a year ago, we shared details about the plan to deploy what will be the largest publicly owned fiber-optic network in the state. The 45-mile network will run through Sanford, but will also travel through Alford, Kennebunk, and Wells and will connect to Maine’s statewide network, the Three Ring Binder. “We’re creating the fourth ring on the 3-Ring Binder,” said City Manager Steve Buck, in a recent Journal Tribune article.

The city of Sanford will own the infrastructure and GWI, headquartered in Biddeford, will operate the network. GWI does not have an exclusive agreement, so other providers could also offer Internet access or other data services over the infrastructure. For the time being, the network will serve primarily community anchor institutions (CAIs), government facilities, and business customers.

GWI also intends to offer residential Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to properties along the fiber route in areas where there is sufficient demand. They will make Gigabit (1,000 Megabits per second) symmetrical connectivity available so speeds will be the same for download and upload. Other providers may use the backbone to offer similar services; the backbone will have 10 Gigabit symmetrical capacity.

Economic Development Needed

For the time being, serving businesses and boosting economic development are the main priorities. Sanford has a history in textiles and manufacturing, with the population stagnating around 20,000 over the past two decades. Community leaders hope to diversify the economy by encouraging entrepreneurship and help Sanford grow. The network will serve downtown's Mill Yard complex, a 600-acre industrial park, and at least 80 additional sites...

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Posted August 10, 2016 by Christopher Mitchell

As the next President considers how to improve rural Internet access, the administration will have to decide where to focus policy. Some at NTIA - the National Telecommunications Information Administration, a part of the federal Department of Commerce - have argued for more middle mile investment. NTIA oversaw major investments in middle mile networks after the stimulus package passed in 2009.

To discuss the relevance of middle mile investment against last mile investment, we brought Fletcher Kittredge back, the CEO of GWI in Maine. Fletcher has extensive experience with both middle mile and last mile investments.

We talk about whether more middle mile will actual incent last mile investment and, more importantly, how to build middle mile correctly to get the best bang for the buck. Along those lines, we talk about avoiding cherry-picking problems and one of my favorites, how to ensure that rural investment does not inadvertently promote sprawl.

Read the transcript of this episode here.

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

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Roller Genoa for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Safe and Warm in Hunter's Arms."

Posted July 1, 2016 by Alexander Dangel

On June 7th, Bar Harbor residents voted against funding the first $50,000 of a $100,000 engineering study for a fiber network to connect municipal facilities. A contentious 47-57 vote at the annual town meeting erased the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) from the annual budget, postponing progress on potential publicly owned Internet infrastructure. 

Decision Leaves Locals Stranded

The town is still clinging to hopes that it can arrange a new agreement with incumbent provider Charter Communications, who owns the majority of fiber on Mount Desert Island, where the city is located. The franchise agreement, inherited by Charter Communications when it merged with Time Warner Cable, expired in 2014. Negotiations on a new agreement appeared to have stalled when Charter wanted to begin charging the town access to incumbent fiber. In the prior agreement, municipal use of fiber to municipal facilities was a service included without an additional fee.

Bar Harbor officials are finding themselves in the same position as other communities similarly situated. After years of dependence on incumbent infrastructure connecting city buildings as part of franchise agreements, incumbents are now trying to squeeze as much as possible out of that dependence. Time Warner Cable tried the same strategy in Martin County, Florida, but the community invested in its own fiber-optic network and is now saving millions.

Apparently, Bar Harbor's leadership was split over the decision to include the funds for the study in the budget. During the budget process, the Warrant Committee took several close votes on whether or not to include the funding. Ultimately, the entire community decided that they prefer to maintain a balance in their CIP fund.

Mount Desert Islander reported on the June 7th vote

“'A majority of the council thinks it’s prudent to have some money in the account in case things change with our agreement," [Councilor] Stivers said.

Preliminary Study Lighting the Way

A 2015 preliminary study evaluated the possibility of Bar Harbor building a fast...

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Posted June 25, 2016 by Alexander Dangel

Nonprofit Old Town Orono Fiber (OTO Fiber) is awaiting responses to a recently posted broadband survey. A fiber-optic network is in the works for both Orono and Old Town, but funds are limited. Local officials seek input from local residents and business to “determine both the interest in this project and where the Internet infrastructure would need to be established.”

Approximately 7,800 people live in Old Town; a little over 10,000 people are in Orono and there are also over 11,000 University of Maine students who attend classes there.

Old Town, Orono, and the University of Maine lost a funding battle against Time Warner Cable in 2015. That incident dealt with an area where only about 320 potential subscribers could be served with approximately four miles of fiber. A recent $250,000 grant from the Northern Border Regional Commission put the consortium back on track to finish that project. OTO Fiber is now gathering more information about where to best deploy a broader network; they have funding for about six miles of fiber in each community.

Locals are enthusiastic about high-speed fiber’s potential benefits to the community. OTO Fiber’s survey page states, 

“The purpose of having this infrastructure in our community is to bolster existing businesses that can take advantage of this connectivity and to attract and foster entrepreneurs, students and recent graduates to create new businesses and enterprises that rely on high-bandwidth connectivity. To help us advance this project, please complete one or both of the following surveys.”

A fast, reliable, affordable connection can promote job growth and keep college-age talent in the region. Residents can look forward to symmetrical high-speed connections (the same speeds on the upload and the download) that will open the door to improved video streaming, telemedicine, virtual reality gaming, and a number of other high bandwidth technologies.

The local towns' networks will connect to Maine’s...

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Posted June 22, 2016 by Lisa Gonzalez

Rockport was the first community in Maine to build a fiber-optic network to serve businesses, but their pioneering initiative will not extend to Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH). At their annual town meeting on June 15th, the local Opera House was packed as citizens showed up to speak on funding an FTTH engineering and network design study. After an extended debate, attendees voted on the measure and defeated the town warrant to spend $300,000 on the project.

According to the Penobscot Bay Pilot, passions flared as a number of people stood up to explain their vote. Several people in support of the project had previous experience with life after fiber:

Deborah Hall, on the other hand, said she led an effort in another state to take fiber optics to 500 homes. That effort resulted in the fact that the “average resident is now saving 100 dollars every month in getting rid of Comcast.”

She recounted how the fiber optic system already in place in Rockport was a draw for her family to return to live in the town. They improved their Internet on Russell Avenue by personally spending the money to extend the fiber to their home, and consequently “reduced our collective Internet and television bills by $155 a month. That’s over 50 percent.”

Rockport’s youth described their dilemma, living in a place where connectivity was less than adequate:

Thomas R. Murphy said he also grew up in town but said: “I am leaving this town to seek a technology career, and am moving to Austin. I have to do this because we do not have technology in this town.”

He warned that sticking with the status quo, residents were paying a company “to make profits and take profits to shareholders in other places.”

“We can keep our resources here and improve lives of everyone. This is an investment we need to make for our future. Costs can be spread thoughtfully by the town, and we can pay forward to the future of the town.”

People at the meeting who did not support the project did not like the idea of paying an estimated $150 more per year in property taxes, even though it would significantly lower monthly Internet...

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