Jack Sullivan / Island Institute

Axiom Technologies installs a tower on Islesford to link the broadband infrastructure between Great and Little Cranberry Islands.

Over 30 island and coastal communities in Maine are working to bring broadband and its benefits to their towns through their economic and community development efforts. 

Simply stated, “broadband” means a high-speed internet connection. It provides the reliability and speeds required by businesses, telecommuters, students of all ages, telehealth users, municipalities and emergency services, and residents who seek 21st century economic and social opportunities. As a natural resource economist working with coastal and island communities for two and half years now, I have come to appreciate the way that high quality internet can connect businesses and communities of our rural coast to the rest of the world. It allows these remote communities to continue a way of life that is inseparable from their surrounding natural resources and integral to Maine's identity.

Jack Sullivan / Island Institute

At the Island Institute, we work to sustain island and coastal communities in Maine. Under this mission, we partner with interested coastal and island community leaders and municipal officials to help them pursue broadband solutions that fit the community’s vision and goals. It’s no secret that Maine’s communities pride themselves on being unique from one another. What has struck me in this work is that many communities are drawing strength from their uniqueness and putting differences aside in order to work together regionally. Our Broadband Resources page offers communities a broad (pun intended) array of information about the challenge of, and possible solutions for, bringing broadband to their towns, and we assist them no matter where they are in the process.

Regardless of a community's unique circumstance or vision, planning for broadband takes a lot of work. It's admirable to see the amount of time and effort that residents, business owners, and local officials put into bringing broadband to their communities. In 2015 when we were working with communities, it was hard to imagine that by 2025 we would see the 120 Maine coastal and island communities connected to internet speeds at or above the national average. Now, this seems wildly possible, as a result of the amazing grit and perseverance that coastal and island residents are showing.

Jack Sullivan / Island Institute

These status updates are just a few examples of what’s taking place along our coast:

  • The 3 Bridged Islands Broadband Task Force has wrapped up its Request for Information process to begin engineering a broadband network that would serve the Towns of Arrowsic, Georgetown, and Southport Island in the Midcoast. This task force has shown strength in their communication and outreach skills, attracting public and private investments.
     
  • The Isle au Haut Broadband Committee is seeking input from residents on the engineered infrastructure design they commissioned this year. With the potential to implement the project as early as 2018, the committee continues to communicate with others in the region about broadband: Stonington, Brooklin, Penobscot, and Swan's Island.
     
  • The Down Bay Technology Task Force is planning to issue a Request for Proposal to construct broadband infrastructure recently engineered and designed to connect the islands of Chebeague, Cliff, and Long, in Casco Bay. These community members are role models for communicating next steps toward implementing a broadband solution e.g., Chebeague Broadband Blog.
     
  • The Town of Islesboro was one of the first islands to pursue broadband. By the end of this year, they anticipate final installations of up to a gigabit of symmetrical service to every premise. Their Broadband Internet webpage provides residents an up-to-date status on the committee's hard work to bring this project to fruition.
     
  • The Town of Cranberry Isles voted in March to build a fiber-wireless broadband network on three islands, and the first will be lit by the end of December. The rest of the network should be finished by June 2018. Despite a few bumps in the road, these islanders maintained their resolve to control their own destiny.
     
  • Matinicus Isle residents participated in negotiations with their internet service provider, along with three other islands, to ensure that planned infrastructure improvements would substantially increase internet speeds and reliability. These recent upgrades greatly benefited the island, which can now access speeds of 50/10 mbps.

As coastal and island communities, these towns inherit a connection to the surrounding land and sea. Most residents and businesses find themselves dependent on the surrounding natural resources, or drawing inspiration from them, for their products and services—lobster and marine products, tourism and marine services, and art and crafts being just a few of these. Broadband can help strengthen lobstering and other businesses by providing greater access to cost-effective bookkeeping options and marketing outlets. It can also refine the target population for, and experiences of, a community's tourism industry, and can broaden the customer base of, or potential supplies to, coastal businesses. Additionally, it can provide educational, health, and government services to improve workforce development and quality of life. I look forward to continuing to learn from, and work with, these dedicated and determined community members to see these benefits of broadband realized up and down Maine’s coast.

 

The Island Institute’s Broadband Team works with interested coastal and island community leaders to pursue broadband solutions. To inquire about our broadband resources or how we could work with your community, please contact Stephenie.

Contributed by

Stephenie MacLagan