Still more questions than answers on rural broadband access

BLUE HILL — Local residents agree we need the internet and at speeds as fast as possible, for tasks such as filing reports for work and paying bills, but how to go about expanding access in rural Maine is still a conundrum for many communities.

The Peninsula Utility for Broadband committee met Friday morning via Zoom and there seemed to be more questions than answers about a path forward.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of four U.S. senators, including Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), are urging the Biden administration to update the broadband speed standard to a minimum of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) for both downstream and upstream, according to a March 4 article in Ars Technica.

The current broadband standard is 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream. That was a standard established in 2015.

The senators sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) stating that the pandemic has “reinforced the importance of high-speed broadband and underscored the cost of the persistent digital divide in our country.”

The peninsula is a good example of that divide.

The town of Brooklin recently finished a project with Consolidated Communications to guarantee its residents a minimum speed of 10 Mbps over 1 Mbps.

“What we went with is a Netflix definition of what’s necessary to stream a movie,” said Brooklin Selectman Bill Cohen. “Today I wish we’d gone over a little more than that.”

Everyone in Brooklin is able to access the 10 over 1 service, Cohen said.

“We are slowly finding people who are still on the old FairPoint plan,” he said. “They are surprised when they learn they can get faster service for less money on the new Consolidated plan. So, that’s a benefit.” Consolidated Communications bought FairPoint Communications in 2017.

But, things aren’t perfect.

To that end, Brooklin is hosting an information session with representatives of Consolidated on April 15 at 6:30 p.m. at the Brooklin School gym.

“We want Consolidated to explain what the project has done and what’s next,” Cohen said. “We’ll do it in the school gym, appropriately masked and socially distanced. We’re going to try to do this carefully.

“I think the real key here is have them talk to us about what’s next. There is demand for faster and better service and we want to figure it out.”

“We asked them to come because we have a few people in town, which I guess, being polite, have complained about service,” the selectman said.

Indeed, a resident on a Brooklin Facebook page last week posted, “whoever is on the internet, I’d like to use it when you’re done, please.”

“When we work with Consolidated, we’re not seeing some of the issues,” Cohen said. “We thought it might be a good opportunity for a ‘reset.’” Service in Blue Hill is scattershot.

The East Blue Hill Road, for example, with service by Spectrum for broadband and Consolidated Communications for DSL, is at varying capacities, according to Butler Smythe of Blue Hill, organizer of Peninsula

Utility for Broadband.

“Some areas are nonexistent,” Smythe said. “From Stepping Stone Lane to the town of Surry line, there is no access to broadband with the exception of one house that is within a quarter mile of the RT on Morgan Bay Road — technically impossible for others.”

Several families in School Union 93, including Blue Hill and Penobscot and Surry, whose children had to work at home during the pandemic, were given wireless hot spots so students could attend school because of a lack of internet service or unaffordability for the families.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the county, in the town of Eastbrook, thanks to the Weaver Wind project, residents are going to get high-speed internet fiber service to their homes, which are already served by Consolidated Communications for phone and internet or Premium Choice for broadband and dish service, according to First Selectman Julie Curtis.

Eastbrook held a special town meeting Tuesday about the project.

“The monies from the Weaver Wind TIF agreement will be used to fund this project,” Curtis said. “We are applying for a grant through ConnectMe that we are hoping will help with some of the costs, but, either way, we voted to move forward with the project.”

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.
Jennifer Osborn

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