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...Read more