Tag: "maine"

Posted September 19, 2022 by Karl Bode

Last March, Caribou, Maine city council members expressed unanimous support for a charter amendment allowing the Caribou Utilities District to establish a broadband infrastructure division. It was just the latest move in a multi-year quest by the city to finally deliver affordable fiber broadband access to every last city resident.

Groundwork for the effort was laid one year ago, when city council members approved using $159,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds to craft a broadband engineering study with the help of Caribou’s Business Investment Group and executives from local ISP Pioneer Broadband.

Late last March, the Maine Senate unanimously approved LD 1949: “An Act to Amend the Caribou Utilities District Charter to Include Broadband Services,” which formally, as the name makes clear, provided approval for the CUD to expand its services into broadband access.

Now the hard work begins. 

The plan as it currently stands is to build an open-access dark fiber network to every unserved Caribou residential and business location. The city would own the network, but private ISPs would provide last mile service to customers. 

“We would like two or more ISPs to provide citizens with a choice of providers,” Hugh Kirkpatrick, Caribou Utilities District general manager, recently told the Bangor Daily News. “Competition should keep monthly prices lower and customer service higher.”

Pioneer has already expressed interest in being one of the providers, though the city is also still fielding proposals from regional cable giants like Charter Communications. 

Funding for the project remains up in the air, though the project will proceed with or without funding from...

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Posted August 5, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Spurred to action by inadequate high-speed Internet service as the pandemic besieged their communities, local officials and citizen volunteers in five rural Maine towns formed the Southwestern Waldo County Broadband Coalition (SWCBC) in an effort to bring ubiquitous and affordable broadband to its portion of Waldo County.

Two years later, the SWCBC is close to securing a major victory for local Internet choice in the face of a well-funded opposition campaign sweeping the Pine Tree State as the Big Telecom lobby and its allies try to undermine the very idea of publicly-owned, locally-controlled broadband networks in Maine and elsewhere.

The five SWCBC towns clustered about 30 miles east of Augusta – home to approximately 5,600 Mainers – are looking to create what is known as a Broadband Utility District (BUD). Four of those towns (Freedom, Liberty, Palermo, and Searsmont) recently voted in favor of establishing a BUD. Montville will be the last of the five towns to vote on whether to BUDdy up with the neighboring municipalities via an Interlocal Agreement (ILA). That vote is slated for August 23.

Similar to Communication Union Districts (CUDs) that the neighboring state of Vermont is relying on to deliver reliable and affordable broadband to its residents and businesses, Maine state law “allows towns to band together to form a community-owned organization, controlled by the municipality members but a legally separate organization - a regional non-profit utility. The BUD is allowed to incur debt that is separate from and not guaranteed by the municipalities.”

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Posted August 2, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio

This week on the podcast, Christopher is joined by Sean Gonsalves, Senior Reporter and Editor at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. During the conversation, they talk about the value and concrete results of going small and stacking up targeted wins as a path for cities facing less of an appetite for big, bold projects, before digging into recent astroturf campaigns by monopoly Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

Led by the Alliance for Quality Broadband (AQB) (really a lobbying group including providers like Charter Spectrum and others), municipal broadband efforts have seen recent setbacks in places like Southport, Maine. It's a campaign being waged both in print flyers and online facebook ads, with AQB driving misinformation efforts and attempting to scare citizens away from upcoming votes on projects to improve local connectivity after years of underinvestment by incumbents (like Charter Spectrum). 

Christopher and Sean fact check the Alliance for Quality Broadband's bogus claims about the failure of muncipal efforts across the country in places like Pennsylvania, Minnesota, California, Florida, and Vermont, and unpack the deep-seated fear of competition driving such efforts.

Listen to Christopher's in-depth interview with Harold Depriest about Chattanooga, referenced in the episode.

Watch the most recent episode of the Connect This! Show to see Christopher and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) talk with Peggy Schaffer (Director, ConnectME), Andrew Butcher (President, Maine Connectivity Authority), and Christa Thorpe (Community Development Officer, Island Institute) about anti-municipal broadband efforts in Maine.

This show is 38 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...

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Posted July 26, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio

Join us live on Thursday, July 28th, at 4pm ET for the latest episode of the Connect This! Show. Co-hosts Christopher Mitchell (ILSR) and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) will be joined by Peggy Schaffer (Director, ConnectME), Andrew Butcher (President, Maine Connectivity Authority), and Christa Thorpe (Community Development Officer, Island Institute).

The panel will dig into recent anti-municipal propaganda in the New England area, with an emphasis on Maine. They'll talk about the astroturf campaign being waged by groups like the Alliance for Quality Broadband (a front organization for Charter Spectrum) and recent blows to municipal broadband they've fueled in places like Southport and Readfield. The panel will talk who really loses out when the monopoly providers persuade voters and local officials to defer leadership on imrpoving community connectivity. Christa Thorpe will join halfway through the show to share her experiences and perspective.

Subscribe to the show using this feed, view the show on YouTube Live or on Facebook Live, or find it on the Connect This! page.

Email us broadband@muninetworks.org with feedback and ideas for the show.

Watch here on YouTube Live, here on Facebook live, or below.

Posted February 14, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

In November, a majority of voters in China (not the country, but a small town in Maine) cast their ballots in opposition to a $6.4 million proposal for a municipal broadband network that, if built, would have provided high-speed Internet access to every household and business in this central Maine town of 4,300.

In recent weeks, China residents learned that Consolidated Communications would not be coming to the rescue. As reported by The Town Line, two representatives from Consolidated Communications attended China’s Broadband Committee (CBC) meeting in late January and the company reps “did not encourage (China) to expect an offer from the company to expand [I]nternet service to town residents.”

The CBC estimates that Consolidated currently serves about 20 percent of the town, while Spectrum serves about 70 percent of China’s households. But for the remaining 10 percent of China households without access to high-speed Internet service, the CBC meeting was a disappointing dose of post-election news.

Consolidated representatives Simon Thorne and Sarah Davis told the CBC that China is nowhere close to the top of their expansion plans, as the company bases its decisions on a combination of four primary factors: projected cost to build, number of potential customers, expected take rates, and whether a competitor also serves that market.

China’s population density is too low to offer enough profit to attract investors.

And just to be clear, when CBC member Tod Detre suggested the company is focused on “more profitable areas,” Davis replied, “You nailed it.”

‘Spirited Discussion’ About November Election

That, of course, led to a “spirited discussion” about last November’s election results. Ronald Breton, chairman of the select board and a guest at the CBC meeting, was emphatic in saying that town officials were still interested in facilitating town-wide connectivity, noting how even after the November ballot question failed the town select board unanimously voted that the CBC remain intact.

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Posted January 26, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Sworn in earlier this month as president of the newly created Maine Connectivity Authority (MCA), Andrew Butcher says he is ready “to hit the ground running,” shepherding Maine’s efforts to bring universal access to high-speed Internet service in one of the most rural states in the nation.

The MCA, first proposed last year by Gov. Janet Mills and created through bipartisan legislation, will oversee the influx of federal funds the state has received from the American Rescue Plan Act and funds the state will get from the recently passed Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act.

The quasi-governmental agency will remain distinct from (but coordinate with) the ConnectMaine Authority, which administers the state’s broadband grant programs.

In a statement released after Butcher was sworn-in, Gov. Mills said:

I am grateful for the Senate’s unanimous confirmation, which is a testament to their confidence in Andrew’s experience and expertise to lead the Maine Connectivity Authority. With Andrew at the helm, and with the Authority’s Board fully in place, it is time to build on our work to expand access to affordable broadband. Broadband is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity for every person, every family, and every business across Maine, and with today’s vote, we are taking another step forward in our effort to make universal broadband a reality for Maine people.

For his part, Butcher said he was “humbled by (the) unanimous confirmation of the Senate and am honored for the opportunity to serve Maine as we look to build the infrastructure of the future. We can get there from here. Many have forged the path to get here and I'm eager to get to work connecting everyone.”

Getting ‘there from here’

In an...

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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 November 3, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Broadband was on the ballot as voters went to the polls for Election Day in many areas. Here’s a quick run-down of what happened.

Colorado

The Colorado state law (SB-152) that bans local governments in the Centennial State from establishing municipal broadband service suffered another defeat at the ballot box. Since the law was passed nearly two decades ago, more than 150 Colorado communities have opted out. That number continues to grow and we can now add the town of Windsor to the list of municipalities in the state who have voted to restore local Internet choice.

At the polls yesterday, 77 percent of Windsor voters said yes to Ballot Question 3A, which asked “shall the Town of Windsor, without increasing taxes by this measure, be authorized to provide high-speed Internet services (advanced services), telecommunications services, and/or cable television services … either directly or indirectly with public or private sector partners?”

The passage of the ballot question allows Windsor to opt out of SB-152, although as reported by The Colorodoan, town leaders do not intend to establish a new municipal broadband utility as Loveland, Fort Collins, and Estes Park have done in the Front Range region of the state. Rather, Windsor will “pursue a public-private partnership with Highline Internet to bring high-speed Internet and phone service to the town … Highline would build, own and operate the network, though Windsor has the option of contributing money or assets (with voter approval) in exchange for a share of revenue.” Highline Internet is a company operating in multiple states that we have not often come across before.

In Milliken, just 16 miles...

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Posted November 2, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio

Join us live on Thursday, November 4th at 5pm ET for Episode 24 of the Connect This! Show, where co-hosts Christopher and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) will be joined by Peggy Schaffer (Executive Director, ConnectMaine) and Carole Monroe (CEO of ValleyNet) to catch up on what's been happening in northern New England. They'll talk state and local developments, share their thoughts on the likely impact of the imminent broadband infrastructure money, and talk about the recent nominations by the Biden administration to the FCC.

Subscribe to the show using this feed, or visit ConnectThisShow.com

Email us broadband@muninetworks.org with feedback, ideas for the show, or your pictures of weird wireless infrastructure to stump Travis.

Watch here or below on YouTube Live, via Facebook Live here, or follow Christopher on Twitter to watch there.

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