Contributed by Keith Harriton, Swan's Island broadband committee, ConnectSI
The Swan’s Island broadband committee, ConnectSI, visited Islesboro in April and also traveled to the Cranberry Isles in May. We wanted to find out what these communities know about designing, financing, and building out reliable, high-speed internet infrastructure that would provide affordable, consistent internet service.
We had the opportunity to inspect infrastructure, participate in presentations by town officials and broadband committee members, and have question-and-answer time with them, Island Institute experts, and folks from all segments of these communities. We asked a lot of questions and got a lot of answers.
Also traveling to the Cranberry Isles were broadband committee members from other communities, including Chebeague Island, Monhegan Island, and Roque Bluffs, a Downeast town not far from Machias. We were able to exchange ideas with the other island and coastal communities represented, who are all similarly situated to us in the challenge of accessing broadband. Even those who had previously met or had already been communicating were there to share their experiences—"Hearing all this first-hand, you always learn something new!"
All communities agreed that attracting and retaining families is “job #1” for the internet effort and that affordability is key. Both Islesboro and the Cranberry Isles enjoy close to 100% support from their residents. Everyone will ultimately have their own reason to back broadband initiatives, whether it's expanding business opportunities, starting new cottage industries, achieving educational goals, accessing entertainment options, or maintaining connections with family and friends (like the lobsterman on Islesford who wanted to be able to Skype with his daughter whose job takes her all over the world, or the grandparents on Islesboro who now have regular face-to-face calls with their grandchildren in Ireland).
Just as the reasons for broadband are varied, so are the strategies communities use to fund projects. Islesboro paid for its network by floating a bond, and the Cranberry Isles received a huge federal grant at the eleventh hour, after the citizens agreed they were willing to go it alone rather than lose internet service altogether. While it can seem like a daunting task, optimism, perseverance, hard work, communication, and grants, grants, grants will get the job done.
The tours were organized and in part funded by the Island Institute, so shout-outs to Kendra Jo Grindle, Stephenie MacLagan, Andrew Theriault and the entire Island Institute team for their generosity, guidance, and expertise. "Two key takeaways from the day," someone tweeted from Cranberry Isles, "1. involve the right people in the broadband committee, and 2. work with a bridging person, someone who can speak technical network design, financing as well as 'speak community' in listening to community needs." This is something that ConnectSI is now modeling with great success as we continue to fundraise toward bringing broadband to everyone here.
All of us on Swan’s came away from these field trips much wiser and more committed than ever!