GOULDSBORO — A seasonal Winter Harbor resident has pledged $28,000 in matching funds to host an Island Institute fellow. That person would work with the towns of Gouldsboro and Winter Harbor to forge a broadband plan to provide high-speed internet access across the Schoodic Peninsula to year-round and seasonal residents, businesses and tourists.
The peninsula’s two hosting towns must team up together in the up-to-two-year initiative as a condition of the anonymous pledge.
“I think it is a good idea,” Select Board Chairman Dana Rice said at the Feb. 17 meeting where Rice, Robert Harmon and Danny Mitchell Jr. voted 3-0 to endorse and authorize the broadband project to move forward. Selectmen Wally Moore and Ernie West could not attend the meeting.
Based in Rockland, the Island Institute has spearheaded an initiative to get all of “Maine’s 120 coastal and island communities connected to internet speeds that meet or exceed the national average by the year 2025,” according to Jennifer Van Allen, writing for the institute’s Island Journal in 2018.
Islesboro and Monhegan islands and the Washington County town of Roque Bluffs are among the coastal communities that have benefited from the Island Institute’s expertise over the years. The nonprofit organization has a broadband team that assists communities to formulate working groups, facilitate public meetings between “community members, local officials and internet service providers and help secure state and federal funding” to plan and fulfill broadband projects, according to the institute’s website.
Since 1999, the Island Institute has placed recent college and master’s degree graduates in Maine coastal and year-round communities to work on community-identified projects for up to two years. The institute pays half of the fellow’s salary and asks hosting communities to provide the other half. The fellow’s housing and health care and other benefits also are paid for by the institute. The Island Fellows Program’s 2022 deadline for fellow applicants is March 4.
Gouldsboro’s town office supervisor Anne Laine and Gouldsboro Infrastructure Superintendent Jim McLean already have been in touch and engaged in preliminary talks with Winter Harbor Planning Board Chairman Denny O’Brien; Sandy Fortin, Schoodic Chamber of Commerce vice president and owner of Energy Elements in Winter Harbor; Schoodic Institute’s IT Manager Roy Gott; and John Dougherty of Bangor-based Mission Broadband, who has been hired by Hancock County to coordinate spending of its $10.6 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, about launching such a joint initiative.
As a first step for Gouldsboro and Winter Harbor, Mission Broadband provided and set up an online broadband survey at the website gouldsborotown.com. Anyone can take the survey, which is intended to determine what year-round and seasonal residents currently rely on for internet service, how fast or sluggish are uploads and downloads and other issues.
Gouldsboro and Winter Harbor already collaborate on many fronts. Twenty years have gone by since the pre-K-grade 8 Peninsula School in Prospect Harbor was built to educate children from both towns and replace their respective grammar schools. The towns share a paid fire chief. Their police departments’ officers regularly assist and back each other up on calls. The Schoodic EMS service serves both communities.
“It’s looking really promising to bring the towns together over broadband that benefits all town residents,” Laine told The American. “To not have it, negatively impacts property values.”
To learn more about the Island Institute’s fellows program, visit www.islandinstitute.org/priorities/resilient-economies/broadband/. To fill out the broadband survey, go to the website, gouldsborotown.com. To measure your internet speed, visit https://www.mainebroadbandcoalition.org/.