Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA, The Rural Broadband Association, visited UniTel this month to formally present a Smart Rural Community award to the Unity-based telecommunications company.

Bloomfield, joined by Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, presented the award in front of an audience at the Unity College Center for the Performing Arts, before a listening session on improving broadband infrastructure.

“Historically, enjoying Maine’s quality of life has come at a price,” said Laurie Osgood, CEO of UniTel. “Now technology has changed so much that it is possible to do the work traditionally performed in the big city from the most rural parts of Maine. Our role is to make sure that our infrastructure can support anyone who wants to live and work here.

"The leadership of Sen. King and FCC Commissioner Rosenworcel has been vital in realizing the goals of closing the digital divide," she said. "The Smart Rural Community designation is a direct reflection of our team’s hard work. We live and work in these rural communities, so this award means a lot to us.”

UniTel received word nearly a year ago that it had earned the designation as a Smart Rural Community. Such a designation put the Maine-based company in an elite class with other broadband providers in rural areas. The Smart Rural Community designation was awarded to only 11 other companies nationally, and UniTel is the first Maine-based company to receive the award.

Bloomfield said, “Rural broadband powers innovation and keeps our rural communities globally connected. It’s an honor to … shine a light on the collaborative efforts of UniTel to bring high-speed broadband to the communities it serves and recognize its national achievement as a Smart Rural Community Showcase Awardee.”

The 2016 Smart Rural Community award follows UniTel's construction of nearly 100 miles of its Bluestreak fiber to the home (FTTH) network in its service area and, beginning late last year, in downtown Belfast. Other selection criteria of note included UniTel’s lead role in promoting and sponsoring free digital literacy training in the areas it serves. This is the second national award received by UniTel in as many years for its efforts to expand access to broadband in rural Maine.

Rosenworcel said, “A broadband connection is more than a technology – it’s a platform for opportunity. No matter who you are or where you live, you need access to modern communications to have a fair shot at 21st century success.”

King added, “Reliable rural broadband access is essential to strengthen and diversify Maine’s economy. Rural broadband can help entrepreneurs grow their businesses, enable farmers to practice precision agriculture and access new markets, and help students learn in an expanding digital world. By building these bridges between Maine’s rural communities and a 21st century economy, we can help Maine business and people grow and thrive.”

In addition to the award presentation and listening session, the delegation also sat in on a digital literacy class, which are regularly offered free of charge through UniTel and the Unity Foundation.