State Politics

Maine’s Internet Overdue for a Facelift

I was on an internet call with a close friend from Virginia, when the topic of download speeds came up. He bragged about having 2gb/s downloads, which was far superior to my own 15mbp/s. With almost three-quarters of Maine being forested, it’s no surprise that the state has gotten a bad reputation for its lackluster internet speeds. Many of SMCC’s online-only students can attest to the pains. However, Maine engineers are hard at work to change that.

State Senator and co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus Angus King secured $110 million dollars for Maine to invest in broadband infrastructure this summer. The funding is expected to become available to Maine projects in October of 2022. According to Wabi, the money is expected to serve 22,000 rural locations, about 25% of Maine’s population currently living without high-speed internet. King followed up by explaining, “Providing broadband to the small towns and rural America, which this initiative is going to do, will enable people to expand their economic opportunities and still stay in the communities where they grew up, where they love, where they want to live. And that’s really, I think, at the heart of this. One of the great powers of the development of technology is that you can now work where you live instead of having to live where you work.”

Senator King isn’t alone in his endeavor to bring Maine into the 21st century. Consolidated Communications, a broadband provider in 20 states, pledged to bring fiber optic to an ambitious 150,000+ homes by the end of 2022. Fiber Optic is the fastest type of broadband internet and is usually only available in densely populated areas like Portland and Bangor. “Fiber moves at the speed of light… we don’t know anything faster,” Erik Garr, President of Consumer-Small Business at Consolidated Communications followed up. Consolidated Communications’ projects are already in the works in Portland, Augusta, Bangor, Waterville, Biddeford-Saco, Rockland, and Falmouth.

A coalition of the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME), a Biddeford internet provider, and a Boston investment firm is working to spread out the fiber optic even more. Their plan is to create infrastructure in smaller towns like East Millinocket, Millinocket, Medway, South Portland, and Belfast. Arctaris, a Boston investment firm, is providing $9.5 million for the projects while being insured by FAME.

One of Maine’s biggest internet providers, Redzone, is teaming up with an internet technology company called Tarana to launch their next generation of wireless access in Litchfield. The project sidesteps the construction of fiber optics entirely and gives the town high-speed internet for 10% of the cost. Redzone’s founder and CEO, Jim McKenna, explained that “A new and more cost-effective broadband network architecture needed to be considered to address the varied complex problems in rural Maine.” His solution was the new hybrid fiber-optic and wireless technology that was implemented in Litchfield in July. 

All of these projects will help the online-only students who can’t afford to commute or live near campus. They may even help to convince the new class of at-home workers to stay in Maine and hopefully subtract from the list of reasons that young Mainers are leaving the state. Fortunately, all the projects are working with considerable speed to update the state’s infrastructure within reasonable timelines.

Photo Credit: Miguel Á. Padriñán
Photo Credit: Miguel Á. Padriñá

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