August 1, 2022—Large portions of our area and many residents have slow, intermittent, or no access to critical internet service. Where service exists, it is becoming obsolete as speeds of modern online uses demand far more bandwidth and continue to grow with new technology. Apart from limited sections of Denmark, Fryeburg, and Lovell, the only wired option in most of the MSAD 72 area is outdated, slow DSL technology via existing phone lines. Satellite dish installations are vulnerable to obstruction or weather interruptions, and cellular connections on handheld devices only work where a cell signal can be reached. Many locations have no access to any internet connection.
The pandemic years underlined the gap between the digital haves and have nots
The ability to work from home, visit online with friends and family, subscribe to local and global news, access critical personal services including telehealth and online banking, and participate in online education has become a regular part of American life. Rural areas are struggling to keep up with the infrastructure needed. What’s more, the speed standards established years ago do not support many services that are currently available and will be inadequate for the future.
Essential grant funding to build modern networks is available for rural communities, and the seven Maine towns that comprise MSAD 72 (Brownfield, Denmark, Fryeburg, Lovell, Stoneham, Stow, and Sweden) have joined together to create the Eastern Slopes Regional Broadband (ESRB) Committee to develop a “future-proof” broadband plan. Planning will move as quickly as possible to take advantage of federal and state funding for rural broadband development. ESRB will use speed test data to map and identify community needs and plan a modern network that can deliver up-to-date options for internet connections to all residents. A comprehensive recommendation to the towns is expected to be complete as soon as early 2023.
What’s the Speed Test? You can help by going to esrbroadband.org. Click through to the speed test that measures and reports the level of service at your location. No personal information is collected other than the physical address of the existing connection. Measuring services levels and identifying the least-served areas of our region is an important component to determine eligibility for funding. If you do not have any internet connection, contact your town office with that information.
Experienced consultants will contribute to the planning. ESRB has recently received grant funds to engage Mission Broadband Consulting for the planning project. Mission Broadband Consulting has critical capabilities in planning and design and extensive experience evaluating organizational models that could include public-private partnership options, municipally owned networks, and proposals advanced by existing providers. They will also investigate new state and federal grant opportunities to help finance new broadband infrastructure.
ESRB will work with the towns to create consensus for the 2023 project plan for our communities that will serve our needs well into the future, and that is cost effective and favorable for support from grant funding.
About Mission Broadband: Mission Broadband is an independent, Maine-based consulting firm committed to bringing equitable broadband access to all by helping communities access funding to build networks. Mission believes that the digital divide has left many behind as the internet has become an essential utility over the last 20 years. They work to give clients the tools and information needed to make sound decisions about expanding and enhancing their broadband infrastructure.