Tag: "ConnectMaine Authority"

Posted January 7, 2022 by Emma Gautier

Five small towns in rural Maine are connecting with one another in a steady grassroots effort to expand broadband access in the Midcoast. After conducting a survey which affirmed the towns’ acute need for better connectivity, a local coalition is navigating state funding and weighing network options. 

In Waldo County, a collection of local officials and community volunteers have formed the Southwestern Waldo County Broadband Coalition (SWCBC) to organize efforts to bring broadband to five towns in rural Maine, clustered about 30 miles east of Augusta. Freedom, Liberty, Montville, Palermo and Searsmont combined have only 3,300 houses along 340 miles of road. The need for better Internet access became particularly visible during the pandemic, as local officials tried to convene online for Selectmen’s meetings. Two selectpersons from neighboring towns connected over this shared need for access, and the coalition grew from there. 

Phase I of the project included distributing a survey to assess connectivity needs across the towns, as well as taking inventory of existing infrastructure. This phase was funded by ConnectMaine, with support from the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments and the Island Institute. The initial connectivity need survey found that out of respondents who did not have Internet access, 55 percent had no provider offering wireline access, and for 32 percent access was too expensive. 76 percent of respondents with Internet access reported a deteriorated connection with more than one user online, and 56 percent experienced an Internet connection problem at least once a day. The data also showed that “96 percent of the 70 miles of road in Searsmont [the largest of the five towns], are either underserved or not served at all by current Internet service providers.”

The coalition has identified four possible models to solve the connectivity gap and...

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Posted December 7, 2021 by Maren Machles

Insidious misinformation, false promises, and a fear of government-operated anything can be major barriers to getting a municipal broadband network off (or in) the ground. There is no clear playbook for how to disable these land mines, no clear path to success because every community is different: the people, the geography, and the incumbent Internet Service Providers (ISPs). But this past November, two communities in Maine facing similar access issues and similar political environments had two very different outcomes when municipal broadband was up for vote.

Just over 90 miles apart, Leeds (pop. 2,300) and Hampden, Maine (pop. 7,200), have had motivated people in the community and in leadership advocating for better Internet access for years. In November 2021, the work of both these community initiatives was tested as voters were asked to decide whether or not to move forward with their respective municipal broadband plans.

One ended in victory and the other in defeat shrouded in a haze created by big cable and telephone monopolies among a fog of misinformation.

In Leeds, residents voted at a special town meeting to move forward with a $2.2 million bond to help build a municipally-owned fiber optic network to underserved areas with the help of Axiom, a small, local Internet Service Providers (ISP). In nearby Hampden residents voted against a $4.5 million revenue bond to build a community network and are stuck waiting for TDS and Charter-Spectrum to bridge the gap in access. How did these two communities have such divergent outcomes?

Campaigning for Broadband

Peggy Schaffer, Director of the ConnectMaine Authority, has been watching the battle for better broadband play out in Leeds and Hampden, and while she admits there are a lot of factors in making something like a municipal broadband service stick, conversations and education are fundamental.

“At some point, when you’ve decided to take this path, and you’re gonna go to the public to ask them to do something, you have to step back and think of it as a political campaign, like you’re running for...

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Posted October 22, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Earlier this month, a plan to bring fiber connectivity to four towns in Knox County, Maine (pop. 39,500) spearheaded by the MidCoast Internet Development Corporation (MIDC) was dealt a major blow when Knox County Commissioners denied MIDC’s request to use the county's American Rescue Plan funds to pay for network construction.

During a Knox County Commission meeting on Tuesday, October 12, after County Commissioners repeatedly barred local municipal leaders from commenting on broadband-related issues, they voted unanimously against awarding any of the county’s $7.7 million in American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funds to municipal broadband projects or any project benefiting an individual municipality.

County Commissioners assembled to consider 58 ARPA project applications submitted by nonprofit and municipal entities, all vying for a portion of the county’s Rescue Plan funds. But, the meeting took an unexpected turn when one Knox County Commissioner accused representatives from the MIDC, a regional broadband utility formed by four Knox County towns, of “bullying” the Commissioners into spending the county’s Rescue Plan funds on regional and municipal broadband projects. 

After County Commissioner Dorothy Meriwether voiced her displeasure for how local community broadband advocates pursued the funding, three local Select Board members were not permitted to speak in support of MIDC. Adding insult to injury, the Commissioners then welcomed a representative from Charter Spectrum to talk for nearly 30 minutes.

Knox County Commissioners are now getting pushback from local municipal leaders and their constituents who are accusing the Commissioners of not adhering to the budget approval process mandated by the county charter and failing to represent constituents in the county’s ARPA funding priorities. They also say the County Commissioners are in violation of Maine state law for forgoing a public comment period.

At the meeting’s conclusion, Knox County Commissioners had informally awarded $4.1 million of the county’s ARPA funds to project proposals addressing affordable housing and food distribution. Yet, some municipal leaders refuse to go quietly into the night, skeptical...

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Posted August 17, 2021 by Maren Machles

This week on the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher Mitchell is joined by Executive Director of the ConnectMaine Authority, Peggy Schaffer to discuss strategies that might make Maine and other states successful in solving connectivity issues with the $42 billion in broadband funding the new infrastructure plan sets aside to go directly to states.

States will receive the funding directly and not through the FCC, as has worked in the past. The bill specifically says that when states award the grant money, they “may not exclude cooperatives . . . public or private utilities, public utility districts, or local governments from eligibility for such grant funds," which will allow states without restrictions on municipal networks to seriously consider investing in them. They discuss how this new structure will allow for more accountability and will prompt states to think critically about how to spend the funds. Schaffer, who helped shape the broadband piece of the infrastructure bill, talks about the conversations she’s having with communities across the state of Maine as they prepare to receive the funding, and how she is imploring them to think about future-proof solutions.

This show is 26 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.

Transcript coming soon. 

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

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes...

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Posted July 19, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

Maine broadband authority redefines statewide broadband as symmetrical 100/100 Mbps connection

California Legislature and Governor reach $5.25 billion agreement on statewide middle-mile network

New Hampshire matching grant initiative aiming to promote partnerships signed by Governor

The State Scene 

Maine

The Maine Senate recently enrolled a bill (L.D. 1432) amending the Municipal Gigabit Broadband Access Fund to only allow communities, municipalities, and regional utilities access to grants through the program. The bill became law without State Governor Janet Mills’ signature on June 24. 

The legislation removes limits placed on the number of grants able to be awarded per project, but limits the amount of funds that may be distributed per project to 50 percent of total costs. The bill, aiming to support the deployment of municipal gigabit fiber optic networks, also requires the ConnectMaine (ConnectME) Authority to establish minimum upload and download speed definitions to foster widespread availability of symmetric high-speed Internet access, beginning in 2025. 

Members of the ConnectME Authority are one step ahead of state legislators. During a June virtual emergency meeting, the ConnectME Authority voted (5 yes-1 abstention) to set the statewide definition of what constitutes “broadband” as a symmetrical 100/100 megabit per second (Mbps) Internet connection. The public board also moved (5 yes-1 no) to redesignate what “underserved” means, defining it as areas which lack access to Internet connections at 50/10 Mbps. 

Before...

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Posted June 17, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Last Tuesday, residents of three coastal Maine communities - Camden, Rockport, and Thomaston - voted to support Town Meeting articles authorizing each town's Select Boards to enter an interlocal agreement establishing the MidCoast Internet Development Corporation (MIDC), a nonprofit regional broadband utility in the Penobscot Bay Region of MidCoast Maine.

The type of regional utility the communities are seeking to establish is a broadband network utilizing an open-access model, in which the fiber infrastructure is municipally-owned, the maintenance of the network is managed by an outside firm, and private Internet Service Providers (ISPs) provide retail service to end-users. The ultimate goal of MIDC is to build an open-access, Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to provide universal Internet access across any towns which vote to sign onto MIDC’s interlocal agreement.

More than nine communities located in Knox and Waldo County formed the MidCoast Internet Coalition earlier this year, to indicate their support of establishing the MIDC regional utility district. Now, the towns which form the MidCoast Internet Coalition (Northport, Lincolnville, Hope, Camden, Rockport, Rockland, Thomaston, South Thomaston, Union, and Owls Head) are voting in phases to sign onto an interlocal agreement, legally recognizing the public utility under Maine law.

Faced with aging populations, a need to consider their economic futures, and no hope of investment from the monopoly ISPs, many cities across Maine have joined forces to develop their own publicly-owned broadband utilities. MIDC is one of three regional broadband utilities in Maine, alongside the Katahdin Region Broadband Utility and the Downeast Broadband Utility (DBU). MIDC will follow the same regional approach as DBU, a utility which found deploying a fiber network and allowing local ISPs to offer services over the infrastructure was the most feasible approach to ensure high-speed, reliable Internet was accessible to residents. Since being established in 2018, DBU now...

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Posted May 17, 2021 by Maren Machles

The Searsport Broadband Committee is pushing forward with a plan to bring a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to town residents. The committee hopes to hold a special town meeting soon, where residents will be asked to vote on a bond to pay for it. 

Searsport, Maine (pop. 2,600), known for being “the home of famous sea captains” and the “Antique Capital of Maine,” is certainly not an antique when it comes to the town's perspective on the necessity of broadband and the long-term benefits that come from investing in fiber. 

“There’s a saying, ‘it’s future-proof,’” Searsport Town Manager James Gillway told the Bangor Daily News. “It’s so far ahead of what copper wire does. It’ll give us better connectivity, and we would run it, own it, like any other utility. That way, we can control the cost. We can be super competitive.”

The town recently put out an informational booklet to educate residents on what this network would look like. 

The network is estimated to cost between $2.5 million and $3 million, with the town seeking state grants to help cover some of the costs. Residents will have the option to subscribe for $60 to $70/month with speeds going up to 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps). Early news coverage suggests the town would contract with Axiom Technologies of Machias to be the Internet Service Provider (ISP).

Like many communities we’ve been covering over the course of the pandemic, working from home and distance learning has really put a spotlight on the need for fast, reliable Internet access in Searsport. 

The town received a $13,000 grant that it applied for back in July 2020 to help boost it’s free public downtown Wi-Fi, which the town believes will “set [them] apart and make [them] more of a destination then a rest stop or pass through town.”

Gillway said that they’ve put up a number of free Wi-Fi hotspots to increase Internet...

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