On Thursday, January 19th, several of Maine’s broadband providers and legislators gathered in the Hall of Flags in Augusta for Broadband Day. The Connect ME Authority hosts Broadband Day annually to highlight broadband expansion in Maine’s un-served areas. This year, providers showcased broadband projects in Maine completed in the past year with ConnectME matching grants.
Showing bipartisan support for broadband were Democrat Shenna Bellows of Manchester and Republican Norm Higgins of Dover-Foxcroft. Both highlighted the importance of broadband to attracting and retaining young people in Maine and growing the State’s economy. First, Bellows said, “If we think bold in our work to build broadband infrastructure in Maine, we can grow our economy and attract young people.” Alternately, Higgins spoke directly to his constituents, saying “If we’re going to re-populate Piscataquis County and grow our economy, broadband is essential.” Case studies presented by providers at the event supported those positions, showing broadband is not only in demand, but vitally important to local economies.
Featured ConnectME Broadband Projects in Maine
Many of Maine’s broadband providers showcased the work they had done with support from ConnectME. Here are a few projects from Maine’s independent telephone companies and local ISP’s at the event:
- Lincolnville Communications and the Town of Waldoboro connected 70 homes over 5.5 miles of fiber in the Augusta Road area with a $119,845 ConnectME grant. In just 9 months, 42 percent of homes connected to this network. As a result, Lincolnville extended the network into the Waldoboro Village.
- OTELCO received a $52,000 matching grant from ConnectME to support rural projects near Webb Cove Road in Lowell and the North Shore Road in Gray. In addition, OTELCO expanded the Gray project to cover the North Raymond Road. In all, OTELCO built 14.4 miles of new fiber and brought its NexSpeed fiber service to 88 homes. These projects allow homeowners to run businesses from home and work from home for large multi-national corporations.
- Unitel received ConnectME matching funds to expand fiber to the home in Albion, Dixmont, Newburgh, Thorndike, Troy, & Unity. They launched their 85 mile fiber network at an event featuring Senator Angus King.
- Pioneer Broadband received $72,426 from ConnectME to build a FTTH network in the Shorey Road area in Westfield. An impressive 77% of homes have signed on. Customers include Smith’s Farm, the largest Broccoli grower east of the Mississippi. Smith’s Farm uses GPS based equipment and fiber-fed Wi-Fi to optimize planting, maintain field health and track crops.
- Axiom Technologies received over $1.7 million in ConnectME infrastructure grants since it started working with the Authority in 2007. Over those 10 years Axiom has built fixed wireless, fiber, and DSL in Washington and Hancock Counties. The company is also a partner on four broadband planning grant projects including Our Katahdin’s bid to expand broadband in the region.
ConnectME is a Public Policy Success Story
ConnectME board member Dick Thompson shared that in the Authority’s first nine years, the agency has granted $11 million in matching grants. These grants brought broadband service to 39,000 homes that were previously un-served. Since these are matching grants, ConnectME grants are paired with significant private investment, making it a true public-private partnership.
Recent developments allow ConnectME to fund projects in under-served areas, although preference is still given to those completely lacking service. Therefore carriers can more easily get funding help connecting homes that are on the way to an un-served area, greatly enhancing service in those areas. In addition, successful applications has shifted from predominantly DSL and wireless toward more future proof, fiber optic technology, protecting the public’s investment from obsolescence.
Therefore, if we are to make further investment in broadband at the state level, further funding of the ConnectME mission would be an ideal place to start.