Fiber-optic cable that delivers fast internet service is now installed along all but about 8 miles of roadway throughout Lincolnville.

For some town officials, the concern is the last hundred feet or so, between fiber installed on utility poles along the roads and connections to homes.

Lincolnville's extensive fiber-optic infrastructure is unusual for a small, rural town in Maine, and goes back to Tidewater Telephone Co., originally headquartered in the town. Over the years, the telephone company developed into multiple companies, including LCIFiber.

In November 2020, the town had about 25 miles of roadway without fiber-optic cable, according to Alan Hinsey, LCI director of marketing.

Hinsey told selectmen there were 41 miles of roadway with fiber-optic cable, passing by about 75% of the town's households.

At the time, Hinsey was seeking assistance from town officials in obtaining a state ConnectMe to help the company lay fiber-optic cable along those 25 miles and bring the town to 100% fiber-optic coverage.

Selectmen offered to look into Hinsey's request as well as other options, and decided to survey residents' opinions. A few selectmen said they knew of residents dissatisfied with LCI's internet service. Hinsey attributed the dissatisfaction to residents who had copper-wire DSL internet, which offers slower speeds, inadequate for many current internet uses.

The advance in miles of fiber throughout the town is partly due to a federal program that funds high-speed internet for households with students and teachers, who had access only to internet service considered inadequate due to slow speeds.

Inadequate service is defined as 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds. LCI's entry-level, high-speed broadband service provides speeds of 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps uploads.

In December 2020, LCI received a federal Cares Act grant to provide high-speed broadband internet, which uses fiber optic-cable, to households with students and teachers with inadequate internet service. With Cares Act money, LCI completed installation of fiber-optic cable on an additional 14.5 miles of roadway in Lincolnville, Hinsey told selectmen Jan. 25.

The state received federal funds in May but did not use the money for broadband expansion until internet companies and others pushed them to do this, he said.

Hinsey joined the Board of Selectmen meeting over Zoom videoconferencing, along with Tidewater Telecom Vice President Randal Manning.

The 14.5 miles of new fiber offer high-speed internet access to 89 households with students from kindergarten to college and teachers, which previously had access only to inadequate service. It also passes about 364 households in total.

Of the 89 student and teacher households, 50 signed up for LCI's fast internet service. For the first six months, those 50 households will receive a premium service at no cost, which provides speeds of 100 Mbps download and uploads, according to Hinsey.

As of Jan. 29, fiber-optic cable was connected to 24 of the 50 student and teacher households in Lincolnville, and broadband internet service was activated for five of these households.

LCIFiber is also installing fiber-optic cable under the Cares Act program for student and teacher households in Hope and Appleton. In Hope, 70 households were connected, and service was activated for 31 of the households. In Appleton, 30 households were connected, and service activated for four households.

There are 243 households in the three towns in LCI'S Cares Act program. Their target dates for service activation for the next 110 households is Feb. 28, and the remaining 93 households is March 31.

After updating officials on the progress the Cares Act has brought to the students and teachers, Hinsey asked for help with obtaining a ConnectME grant to help pay the cost of laying 8 more miles of fiber-optic cable, which would run past about another 93 households, he said. When completed, Lincolnville would be the first town in Maine with 100% access to broadband internet, according to Hinsey.

LCI's request for town assistance again stirred debate about the company's history of internet service in Lincolnville, installation costs and wait times to connect homes to fiber-optic cable already installed on the roadways.

Selectmen Jordan Barnett-Parker asked for clarification about whether LCI's recent fiber expansion in Lincolnville is out on the main roadways and does not include hookups to houses.

He asked how long it will now take multiple households off the main road to get hooked up to fiber-optic service. In the past, households on a main road had difficultly getting connected to LCI's broadband service and groups of households on roads off the main roads could not even get appointments, he said.

Barnett-Parker repeated his questions when he did not get specific responses on installation time frames and costs, and availability of upload/download speeds of 100 and higher.

Manning said there was a backlog for installations of a month or a month and a half.

Additional contractors have been hired to do the installations for student and teacher households, he said. They have fiber experience, but not fiber to home, and needed training.

He pointed out LCI is the only company in the state hooking households up to broadband. They have to install the 200 or so students in Lincolnville, Hope and Appleton who have to be connected in a certain time period, as well as households in a ConnectME job in Bremen, he said.

Manning wants people to recognize the work these contractors are doing.

There's nobody in the state doing this, he said. "These guys did an incredible job, by far better than anyone else surrounding us."

Hinsey asked if other selectmen agreed with Barnett-Parker's views of LCI.

Vice Chairman Keryn Laite said in the past he did not know fiber-optic cable ran past his house, and that his household was connected because of his wife's job. Her employer had to get involved to help them work things out, he said.

"From office staff who answers the phone, to carry-through for work order completion, the company needs some help," Laite said. This is what he thinks Barnet-Parker is trying to convey, he said.

Chairman Ladleah Dunn also did not know fiber ran past her home. The installation to her home went smoothly, she said. She thanked Hinsey and Manning for their status update on what LCI is doing in the Lincolnville community, and struck a conciliatory note.

"As a board, we’re not in the position to dictate your terms of service as a private company," she said.

Dunn asked if Selectmen Josh Gerritsen and Mike Ray wanted to comment.

Ray asked if town officials work with LCI on a ConnectME grant, would they be able to work in partnership with the company regarding customer service, or possibly telehealth service in the future.

Gerritsen expressed appreciation for LCI's quick deployment of the Cares Act funds and expansion of service to students. He said his own connection to broadband went smoothly.

He mentioned the town's broadband report, released in December. He referred to responses to open-ended questions asked of residents in a survey. He said the report includes all of the responses and said it might be helpful for LCI to look through the report.