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...Read more