Town explores boosting broadband, the ‘heart of small business’

MADAWASKA, Maine — Members of Madawaska’s Board of Selectpersons voted Tuesday, July 19 to create a “broadband coalition” to explore ways to improve the town’s access to quality broadband telecommunication infrastructure.

“Broadband is the heart of small business,” said board member Denise Duperre, who submitted the proposal.

Citing reliable internet access and telecommunications technology as “vital” to business and community development, Duperre said the status of the current technology in town is proving inadequate.

“We need to meet the needs of a global economy,” she said.

Madawaska is the latest among a growing number of Maine communities taking the initiative and seeking ways to bring improved internet service to businesses and residents.

According to a recent Bangor Daily News report, Orono and Old Town are partnering with the University of Maine to connect to the state’s open 1,100-mile fiber-optic cable infrastructure project, known as the Three Ring Binder.

In October, Old Town residents approved spending $80,000 to add their three miles of connecting fiber in that community, and each town is currently surveying residents and business owners for input on where future high speed lines should be located.

Sanford, Isilesboro, Rockport and Bar Harbor are also currently looking into developing some sort of locally-owned broadband system, according to reports at MuniNetworks.org.

MuniNetworks.org is managed by the Community Broadband Networks Initiative of the Washington, DC-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance. That institute also has an office in Portland.

Last year, the Northern Border Regional Commission awarded the Old Town-Orono Fiber Corp., which was created to add those local fiber-optic cables, a $250,000 grant to help create the fiber-optic network.

Board member Vince Frallicciardi said the town has been unsuccessful in obtaining broadband funding from ConnectME Authority, a state entity tasked with supporting improved internet service, because the numbers of customers are too low in parts of Madawaska. He added that they are also looking into funding from the border commission.

Internet service is provided in town by either Time Warner cable, Fairpoint Communications or GWI. Residents may also use satellite or cell phone-based internet, which is traditionally more expensive.

Duperre said she expects the new coalition in Madawaska to begin with surveys similar to what other towns have done, to gauge the needs and expectation of business owners and residents.

The board will develop membership guidelines for the coalition. No meeting dates or deadlines for the coalition were discussed Tuesday, nor did the board approve any funding for the coalition.

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