With many Mainers working and attending school from home for the last year, improving access to high-speed internet service has taken on a new urgency for municipalities across the state. That is also true in Northport, where the Broadband Internet Committee has recently been reconstituted with resident Ann Frenning Kossuth as its chairman.

According to its page on the town website, the committee's mission is "To provide every home and business in Northport with access to affordable, high-speed, state-of-the-art Internet service."

Frenning Kossuth said the committee was first started in 2017, but was disbanded after about a year because it lacked "critical mass." The strictures imposed by COVID-19 provided the impetus to restart the group. She said one problem the town faces, along with a number of other municipalities, is that because it has broadband service along its main roads, like Route 1, the federal government regards the town as adequately served. In fact, many areas of Northport have poor service, or none at all, she said. Even some of her committee members lack access to broadband service, connecting to the internet via fcellphone and mobile hotspot.

She said the committee would like all residents of Northport to go to the Maine Broadband Coalition's website at mainebroadbandcoalition.org and take the internet speed test there, so their results will be added to MBC's map of Maine showing where high-speed service is — and is not — available. It is also possible on the speed test page to enter an address that has no service at all. Predictably, when you look at the map, the best service is in a corridor in the southern portion of the state, with pockets of high-speed service along the coast.

Frenning Kossuth said the committee has been fortunate to make some good connections in its early days. One of these was with Kerem Durdag, president and chief operating officer of internet service provider GWI Inc., whom committee member Brady Brim-Deforest had gotten to know through working with the company to get his home and neighborhood connected to GWI's network. Durdag met with the committee, she said, and provided a lot of good information.

The group has also made a connection with the Midcoast Broadband Coalition, led by Deb Hall of the Rockport Select Board, which has members from Camden, Hope, Lincolnville, Northport and Rockport, and is exploring ways to expand the availability and affordability of high-speed internet service throughout the Midcoast. This group, Frenning Kossuth said, "may turn out to be the most sensible approach, particularly for funding."

However, it's early days yet, and the committee has not ruled out setting up a municipal broadband system for the town, either on the model of Islesboro's or some other way. Islesboro is unusual because of its isolation, and she was not sure that funding the initial infrastructure through a bond and then having residents subscribe to the system, with the town maintaining it through taxes, as Islesboro does, would be the right way for Northport to go. But the Islesboro model "is very much on our radar," she said.

The committee is looking into what grants are available, including from the ConnectMaine Authority and regional sources. It will also talk with commercial internet service providers in the area about possible service improvements. Frenning Kossuth added that the group needs to find a funding mechanism in addition to whatever grants it is able to obtain, and said recent appropriations of federal funds for rural broadband are very important.

She noted that the eight-member committee boasts participants with expertise in a variety of areas, including Maine State Librarian Jamie Ritter; Avery Kreamer, who has experience coordinating an after-school tutoring program; Brim-Deforest, who not only provided the connection to Durdag, but also has experience with community-built and community-managed fiber networks; and Karl Reiser, now retired, who worked for the Maine State Library for many years as librarian/technology project manager. "I'm in awe of who's on my team," she said.

Anyone who is interested in attending the meetings at 5 p.m. Tuesdays is welcome, Frenning Kossuth said. The meetings are held in hybrid fashion, with some people at the Town Office and others on Zoom. The public is encouraged to attend via Zoom because of the Town Office's small size, but anyone who wants to attend in person should contact her at ann.frenning.kossuth@northportmaine.org. For a Zoom link, contact Kreamer at avery.kreamer@northportmaine.org. Find the committee page at northportmaine.org/content/4113/Broadband_Internet_Committee/

She said she's "very optimistic for the future, very proud of this team. The dedication of this team is amazing."