There Are No Magic Bullets to Fix Maine Broadband
It can be hard to hear the truth, but here it is: When it comes to the problems with Maine Broadband, there are no magic bullets. No wireless, cable, or phone provider is going to ride in on a white horse and chase away the “bad guys” that jeer Maine for how bad our broadband is. Instead, we have a long, hard road ahead of us to replace closed, monopolized, antiquated copper networks with open, competitive, future-ready fiber and wireless networks. The good news is we’ve made some very positive advances over the last few years, although unrealistic expectations for what these advances would accomplish have created some disappointment among some Mainers.
Progress in the middle-mile was just the first step
One example of recent progress is the Three Ring Binder, which brought 1,100 route miles of high-count middle mile fiber to hundreds of Maine communities, creating a launch pad for the construction of last mile broadband networks in dozens of Maine communities, including community broadband networks in Rockport and South Portland, but also a variety of rural networks constructed by Axiom Technologies, Cornerstone Communications, and Pioneer Broadband. True, not everyone, not even a majority of Mainers are connected yet, and this leads some to feel disappointed, but the Three Ring Binder is still very young and will go on creating opportunities for Maine people for many years to come. For it to reach its full potential, we must keep building.
Community networks are just one way to build the last mile
Rockport and South Portland were the first Maine communities to look at the broadband problem locally and solve the problem for a portion of their residents by building open-access municipal fiber networks in targeted areas of their communities. Other communities, including Islesboro, Sanford, Orono and Old Town are following their lead. Their path will not be the best choice for every Maine community, but it is an important tool to have in the toolkit if we really want to change the Maine Broadband landscape. We must keep the momentum going. To do so, it’s important to engage in a healthy dialogue about community networks in our towns, and to support legislation in support of municipal networks, like this session’s LD-1185.
Wireless technology is a vital part of the solution, not the solution
There’s justifiable excitement from the recent announcement that RedZone wireless will be rolling out 4G LTE Advanced wireless broadband in Maine. Wireless technology promises rapid, cost-effective deployment of broadband services to a large number of Maine homes. Perhaps more importantly, it introduces more competition in a residential broadband space that lacks options for many consumers. That said, for the foreseeable future wireless will not be as fast or as reliable as fiber for delivering broadband and the most reliable small-cell wireless deployments will require a terrestrial broadband network that is rich in fiber to fulfill their promise of better service for Maine people. For these reasons and more, while wireless is an important piece of the puzzle for Maine broadband, it is not a magic bullet. We cannot rest on our laurels and wait for wireless to bring us out of Internet darkness.
To succeed, we must stay the course and work together
Even the most conservative estimates place the cost of building out a new broadband network for Maine in the billions of dollars. Such an effort will require the cooperation of federal, state and local government and especially the private sector over a number of years. It will require the support of voters and consumers, and it absolutely requires that we look past easy fixes that don’t really exist toward the ultimate goal of building a network that will put Maine in position to thrive in the 21st century digital economy.
Photo by Insomnia Cured Here, Licensed through Creative Commons