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Maine’s Crossroads With Rural Internet Access

Posted on by GWI

By Christoper Mitchell and Hannah Trostle

Like many states, Maine is at a crossroads. Decisions made now around rural Internet access will impact the state for decades, just as smart decisions to electrify farms and rural regions dramatically improved quality of life, the economy, and transformed society.

Susan Crawford at the Rockport, Maine next-generation broadband network launch.

Left to Right: Rick Bates, Susan Crawford, Meg Weston, Fletcher Kittredge and Senator Angus King (I-Maine) announced a next generation fiber network in Rockport, Maine in August 2014. (Not visible, Jeff Letrouneau.)

The question for Maine is whether it will embrace the technology of yesterday – cable, DSL, and many forms of wireless that are insufficiently reliable and have too little capacity to support the applications of tomorrow. Some towns in Maine are rapidly moving into the future by building open access municipal fiber networks.

Let’s break down this approach into its constituent parts. Municipal networks are, by definition, locally owned and democratically accountable. Over 450 communities are served in some way by municipal networks available to the public. The networks are attuned to local needs: in practice, this means faster connections and fewer price hikes.\

Open access means that multiple ISPs can use the network. GWI is one of a growing number of locally-rooted companies unafraid to operate in a truly competitive environment where its customers have a real choice.

Full fiber networks have tremendous benefits well beyond simply delivering the fastest, most reliable Internet connections currently available. A recent Wall Street Journal article highlighted how fiber increases home values. In the study, home values increased by $5,000 – $6,000. Houses with better Internet access sell faster, at higher prices than comparable houses with lesser connectivity.

Wireless access, however, is not the same – as the Wall Street Journal points out. This guy John Wilczak depended on wireless service because his house had no broadband access. After friends staying with him blew past the monthly data cap, he got a bill for $900. Then, in trying to sell his house, people proved uninterested because of the lack of broadband. Wireless isn’t necessarily cheaper for homeowners, but it is definitely less reliable and slower.

Besides, wireless networks still need backhaul on a wired connection – ideally fiber. Fiber is reliable, future-proof and has almost no limits on capacity. Maine already has an impressive fiber network stretching across the state that could be the backbone of an incredible Internet system ensuring the vast majority of residents can have high quality, affordable, connections from providers rooted in the community.

What Maine should take away is obvious: pursue open-access fiber. Current wireless technology is a band-aid solution that will ultimately restrict Maine’s growth and Internet connectivity. With an open access approach to fiber, Maine will see greater competition, better service, and more options.

is the Director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and edits MuniNetworks.org. is a writer for MuniNetworks.org.





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