Commercial Currents: Boosting business with better internet

Stephenie MacLagan|Briana Warner
Posted 2016-10-03

Island residents strive to provide better internet for businesses and communities

Are you frustrated when trying to run a customer’s credit card? Can’t provide WiFi? Are you prevented from working where you want to live because of poor internet service? Struggling to market your products to customers beyond your neighborhood?

Residents up and down the coast of Maine have identified the lack reliable and fast broadband as a major hindrance to their communities’ economic development and sustainability. Since last year, we’ve worked with 13 year-round islands on this problem. These residents have been extremely thoughtful in working to bring faster internet to their communities. Their unique approaches highlight each community’s strengths, while also working together to gain additional leverage.

Small businesses are increasingly reliant on the internet. Potential customers are now available at the click of your webpage; however, if you don’t have reliable internet, you might not be able to run your website effectively, or even do your accounting through convenient online tools.

These 13 year-round islands are solving an incredibly complex problem given their geographic isolation from the rest of the Maine coast. Like most Maine communities, each of them is different, and below are some innovative ways that some island communities are working together to get better internet service.

Building community awareness

Residents of Vinalhaven are incredibly busy in the summer when fishing is at its peak and the tourist onslaught can feel overwhelming. Instead of stressing about their already busy schedule, they joined together with residents of North Haven to form the Fox Islands Broadband Task Force. They decided to take advantage of the islands’ peak summer populations to launch a series of broadband talks. The Task Force—comprised of Vinalhaven Chamber of Commerce members, selectmen, the Town Manager, and summer and year-round residents on both islands—invited speakers from all over Maine to participate in broadband talks focused on how better internet can help boost the islands’ economy and help sustain local businesses. They also rented a spot on Vinalhaven’s Main Street, to establish a co-working space with the highest broadband speeds available on the island in order to help encourage people to work from the island.

The Fox Island Broadband Task Force recently launched a community survey to get a better idea about islanders’ current level of service and their aspirational goals for broadband. The Vinalhaven selectmen voted to formalize the Task Force and endorsed these initiatives, giving the important status of having support from the Town. You can read more about the Task Force’s activities on their Facebook page.

Canvassing workable options

The Town of Long Island Broadband Exploration Committee recognizes that broadband is essential for sustainable economic development. So far, they have focused on collecting information about all the possible broadband options for their island. These options are being presented to selectmen, in the hope to pursue the best possible option. The Committee has also worked with the Island Institute to present a series of digital education workshops on social media for business and QuickBooks, in order to show the benefits of broadband for businesses.

Contact us to host a digital education workshop in your community!

Negotiating with the incumbent service provider

The island communities of Frenchboro, Isle au Haut, Matinicus, and Swan’s have all seen the worrying demographic trends, and are actively working to increase economic opportunities for current and prospective residents. These communities are all served by TDS and heard that there would be upgrades made to their infrastructure this summer. Rather than passively accepting these upgrades, they coordinated with the Island Institute to have a joint meeting with TDS staff to ensure that upgrades were sufficient to meet the communities’ broadband goals. Working with the service provider in this manner seems to have had the desired result: TDS will be making upgrades largely consistent with the islands’ stated goals from that meeting.

The Swan’s Island Broadband Committee, in anticipation of these upgrades, has sent out a community survey to assess the current broadband speeds around the island. They plan to do a follow-up survey after the upgrades are completed, to identify any remaining gaps in service and work with TDS to fill these gaps.

Additional efforts occurring

In addition to these communities, many others have made tremendous progress on bringing better internet service to their towns. For example, the Town of Islesboro is on track to be the first universally connected gigabit town in Maine. Read more about Islesboro’s journey toward connectivity here.

Through partnerships among the business community, municipal officials, and community leaders, communities in Maine can help spur economic development through improving internet infrastructure. If you feel like your community and businesses could benefit from better internet, feel free to contact us to see how we might be able to help.

Help support these efforts

Surveys help collect information necessary to seek improvements:

Find out more about broadband efforts:

What We Do

The Island Institute’s Economic Development program helps communities plan for a sustainable economic future. To learn more about our broadband and digital education work, feel free to contact Stephenie.

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