ELLSWORTH — Local, state and federal dignitaries joined together Tuesday to celebrate the launch of high-speed internet service in the city and the work that was done to make such service a reality.
The event, held at the Union River Center for Innovation on Water Street, was billed as a “lighting presentation” for the open-access fiber optic network that makes high-speed, broadband internet service possible.
“Ellsworth has plugged in,” said Kerem Durdag, chief operating officer of internet service provider GWI. His company is the first to contract with the city to serve customers along the three-mile fiber network, which stretches from Harbor Park on Water Street, up to Church Street behind city Hall, over to Oak Street and then out High Street to the intersection with Beechland Road.
The infrastructure is designed to allow room for other providers in the future, too.
The high-speed service was already live prior to Tuesday’s event, and the fiber optic cables over which pulses of light are sent to transmit information are based not at the business incubator but nearby at the site of the former wastewater treatment plant. Those details didn’t dampen the spirit of those who showed up to celebrate the project that had its genesis three years ago, however.
“It creates such an opportunity for this community,” said U.S. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine). “You cannot attract businesses without broadband.”
King said bringing broadband internet service to underserved areas is “exactly equivalent” to the push for rural electrification in the 1930s in this country.
State Sen. Brian Langley (R-Hancock County) spoke from his perspective as a small business owner (he runs the Union River Lobster Pot) and detailed how vital fast, quality internet service is to so many parts of his business, from processing payroll and ordering supplies to handling customers’ credit cards.
“Connectivity levels the playing field for those of us who are small business owners,” he said.
Speakers recognized the roles that different groups played in helping to bring the high-speed internet infrastructure to the city. Those groups included the City Council and other city officials for supporting the project (the city put about $110,000 to the project), the Ellsworth Business Development Corp. and the Northern Border Regional Commission (which supplied the bulk of the funding in the form of a $250,000 grant).
King said the work that has been done in Ellsworth is “providing leadership for the rest of the state” as other Maine towns and cities look to do the same or similar things with high-speed internet service.