The select boards of five western Maine communities are teaming up to explore ways to extend high speed internet service to all their residents.
Building on work by local residents through the Maine West Broadband Boot Camp, the towns of Woodstock, Bethel, Greenwood, Newry, and Gilead have all adopted a shared goal of making sure “everyone in the Mahoosuc region has access to reliable, affordable, high speed, and future ready internet service.”
Each town has appointed a representative to the Mahoosuc Community Broadband Committee and allocated funds for cooperative mapping and identifying practical scenarios for improved service. Local project funding is leveraging private funds and support through a USDA Rural Community Development Initiative grant secured by the Northern Forest Center, which is working with communities in the region to expand broadband.
Center Senior Program Director Mike Wilson said that the communities are all in similar situations with closer-to-town areas served by cable and some fiber, but much of the area still depending on slower DSL.
“As things stand, there’s no real market incentive to extend high speed service into rural areas,” Wilson said. “With increasing state and federal funding available for rural broadband, the towns all recognize the value of teaming up to position themselves for public investment. To do that, they need to develop practical infrastructure and financing strategies.”
Nearly a dozen Mahoosuc area residents took part in the Maine West Broadband Boot Camp offered by the Center and Community Concepts Finance Corporation in 2020. The speed testing and surveying they conducted during the Boot Camp revealed that 50% of respondents are unserved according to state and federal broadband standards.
Forty-three percent of survey respondents are not at all or only somewhat satisfied with their internet speeds. Over 90% of respondents said that fast, reliable and affordable internet service is not only important to them personally at home, but throughout the entire community.
Greenwood resident Theresa Doherty was motivated to join the local Broadband Committee after working from home and using the hot spot on her phone for internet service.
“It’s expensive and I don’t think a lot of people can afford it,” Doherty said.
“I think now is a great time to be investing in high-speed internet,” she added. “Good internet service is necessary in this world. People are working from home; people are getting educated from home.”
The next step for the Mahoosuc Community Broadband Committee is to complete local mapping and scenario development as a basis for building partnerships and pursuing state and federal funding to extend future-ready internet service to everyone in the Mahoosuc area.