Reliable, high-speed internet access is fundamental to our ability to educate our children, deliver quality health services, support local businesses, and make our communities attractive places to live and visit. To address this need, the Center has helped develop a roadmap for improving high speed internet access the Maine West region—stretching across western Maine communities in the Oxford Hills, Bethel, and River Valley areas.
The plan grows from a year-long process involving nearly 100 people that was led by the Maine West collaborative, a partnership of local and regional organizations dedicated to addressing systemic rural challenges and enhancing community well-being in western Maine through increased collaboration across the economic, education, health, and conservation sectors. The Center coordinates Maine West and is a partner in implementing projects.
The ConnectME Authority awarded a $78,000-grant to the Northern Forest Center to fund the project, which was coordinated by Community Concepts Finance Corporation, another partner in Maine West. The Maine West Regional Broadband Technology Plan includes recommendations in three categories:
- Regional Collaboration – capitalizing on scale and related cost savings to: create a network of community WiFi Hotspots; connect businesses and community institutions to existing fiber networks; and build a new open access fiber loop to expand connectivity options.
- Community Infrastructure Plans – providing specific technology recommendations to guide broadband infrastructure investments to meet goals articulated by more than 20 local communities.
- Digital Inclusion and Literacy – improving public computer access and working with the Adult Education programs and other digital literacy resources in the region to expand computer classes and training for local business and residents.
“Small towns risk falling further behind without forward-thinking investment in broadband,” said Jessie Seymour-Perkins, executive director of the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce. “The new Maine West Broadband Plan will help businesses and communities in this region band together to advocate for and invest in badly needed high-speed internet connectivity.”
“Inadequate internet connectivity is a barrier to economic and community development in rural communities across Maine, the Northern Forest, and the nation,” said Mike Wilson, senior program director for the Northern Forest Center. “By working together to implement the new Maine West Broadband Plan, local communities and organizations can make Maine West a much more attractive place to live, run a business, or raise a family.”
The Maine West Regional Technology Plan is available to view or to download on the Maine West website.
Maine West partners will work with communities, businesses and non-profits to begin implementing the new Maine West Broadband Plan through the fall, with leadership from Community Concepts Finance Corporation (CCFC). “We all have a lot of work ahead of us to ensure the Maine West area is positioned to succeed in the new knowledge economy,” said Mia Purcell, Vice President of Economic Development, CCFC.
As research for this project, the Center and its partners conducted extensive surveys of residents and business owners, met with local broadband planning teams to identify community priorities across the Maine West area, and hosted a regional broadband forum to better understand shared priorities across the project area.
Photo by Lucelia Ribeiro, Creative Commons