The Working Waterfront

Learning from one town’s pioneering spirit

High-speed internet is big deal for small towns

By Kim Hamilton
Posted 2024-06-17
Last Modified 2024-06-17

Down the Pemaquid Peninsula and bordering Muscongus Bay sits the small coastal town of Bremen. According to the town’s website, Bremen was “founded in 1828 by pioneers and fishermen.” I can’t fully picture what those early pioneers encountered along the coast or what they imagined their futures to be. I can say with certainty, however, that high speed internet was not on their minds.

In the context of broadband expansion in Maine, the people of Bremen stand out again as pioneers. Last month, I had the honor of joining a celebration of the completion of the town’s universal fiber-to-the-home project, which Island Institute has supported.

On its face, an internet party might sound like a dry affair. In reality, it was anything but. It turns out that connecting more than 400 households to this fundamental technology is a glass-raising, community-focused, future-building milestone.

Local businesses that depend on reliable internet for sales and marketing now have it. The technology supports students, parents, and adult learners who want easy access to online educational material. Older people with limited mobility can now access services virtually and maintain their social, physical, and spiritual health. Connectivity will strengthen the town’s ability to attract and retain year-round families. These are big wins for a small town.

These are exactly the kinds of community enhancements that Island Institute envisioned when we launched our broadband initiative in 2015.

These are exactly the kinds of community enhancements that Island Institute envisioned when we launched our broadband initiative in 2015. Grounded in an in-depth feasibility study that looked specifically at 14 island communities, we learned that high speed internet was a crucial public service, just like clean water, electricity, public ports, and piers.

Based on what was happening across the country, we knew broadband could become a bridge to employment, education, and healthcare and a solution for loneliness and isolation.

In retrospect, this seems astoundingly obvious. At the time, the aspiration to bring broadband to every home on the coast and on islands was audacious.

Since the launch of our broadband initiative, Island Institute has made over $450,000 in planning grants and provided thousands of hours of expertise and guidance in support of community broadband aspirations. On the Blue Hill Peninsula alone, we invested over $55,000 in planning grants and helped secure over $10 million in public and private funding to connect thousands of residents and businesses to broadband.

Kim Hamilton
Kim Hamilton

We’ve done this in close partnership with the state’s former Connect Maine Authority and its new Maine Connectivity Authority, internet providers, town committees, the Maine Broadband Coalition, Grow Smart Maine, and many others.

Along the way, we’ve learned an important lesson: the opportunities fostered by high-speed internet are not shared equally, especially when the cost of accessing broadband is out of reach. For a time, the federal government’s Affordable Connectivity Program helped nearly 96,000 Mainers. Now out of money, that program is no longer a viable option, and its future is unclear. This means that many people are at risk of being left out or left behind. These exclusions are even more acute for rural communities or islands. Known as “digital equity,” this is the new frontier for broadband expansion.

Back in Bremen, digital equity has always been part of the plan. In partnership with the National Digital Equity Center, the town will continue to pay $30 a month service fee through its Bremen Broadband Benefit for households below a certain income threshold. This is the same amount provided through the ACP and will guarantee that no resident falls through the digital divide.

This makes Bremen the first town in the state to provide a local affordability option for its residents. That is a commitment worth celebrating and yet another example of its pioneering spirit we can learn from.

We’d love to hear how access to high-speed internet is affecting your community. Send us a note. Christa Thorpe, who leads our broadband and digital equity efforts, can be reached at

Kim Hamilton is president of Island Institute, publisher of The Working Waterfront. She may be contacted at