High speed broadband. It’s a buzzword that many politicians are crying about and, in typical politician fashion, they are calling for study groups, forming committees and clamoring for money, money, money. And getting nothing done.

As the state chews over how to connect our very rural state, it is neglecting a simple answer. The issue in many places is how to connect small and far-flung populations to good internet. I live in northern Waldo County in a modest-sized town of 1,000 or so souls. There is not even cable TV because it has not been profitable to connect us.

Internet connectivity is, as the politicians love to proclaim these days, infrastructure. It’s not just an entertainment option. It is a true baseline need like roads and electric systems. It will stimulate job creation and support people working and going to school remotely. Many of us have poor connectivity at best. But unlike politicians, we as Mainers should look at a simple and practical way to connect the dots.

Maine has hundreds of miles of defunct railroad beds that were built from one corner of the state to the other to connect industries now gone by, back in the days before interstate highways and decent state roads. They provided a statewide skeleton of connectivity. Being practical, when these failed, we converted many of them to multi-use recreation trails for hikers, bikers, ATVs, snowmobiles and horseback riders. This is a tremendously profitable use, because when all these good folk come into our little villages, the first thing they do is spend money.

And these flat roadways of filled grade can be our broadband answer. Don’t change the use of the trails — improve it. A simple ditch witch trencher could be used to dig and plant broadband pipeline under the trails. Putting it underground would prevent storm and other damage. When the corridors were built 100-plus years ago, the rocks and roots and everything else we associate with digging a hole in Maine were removed and good gravel and fill packed to make a solid base. Low spots were built up and water crossings bridged. Unlike the proposed rape of Western Maine to allow our Spanish-owned power company to transport Canadian hydro power to Massachusetts, it would require no change in appearance. After a brief interruption in trail use, it would bring the best connectivity statewide.

Not only that — it has been a priority of the USDA’s Rural Development Agency to finance bringing broadband to rural America. It has loans and grants for this express purpose. Here in northern Waldo County, we could gain even more. The state owns the right of way on the defunct Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad. It allows a nonprofit to use a small portion to play train. Since 2008 that group has shifted operations from Brooks to Belfast to Unity. The tracks are so decrepit that they are all but impassible. Speed limits are 10 miles an hour or less.

According to the Federal Rail Administration (which would not release the information without intercession from Sen. Collins’ office), there is no one certified to operate those trains. They are allowed to run them because it is an “isolated” railroad. In other words, they don’t connect to other trains.

They do, however, cross our roads in dozens of places. This also increases the costs of the school districts, fuel companies and many others by forcing their vehicles to “stop, look and listen,” wasting time and fuel even though the train runs occasionally in a small area a few weekend days a year.

The state spends over $100,000 a year in DOT crews and equipment use to repair track and beds for a nominal use. In many places, the ties are so rotted and beds so eroded that you can tug up spikes barehanded. But the Federal Rail Administration says they only need one tie out of every five to be solid for it to be considered functional at the low rates of speed.

When the state converted the right of way Down East (bought at the same time) into the 87-mile Sunrise Trail, it cleared $25,000 a mile by selling the rails to mines and manufacturers and refurbishing the bed. That figure came from the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands when ATV and snowmobile clubs tried to get the 30 miles of Belfast & Moosehead Lake track from Belfast to Burnham converted.

The latter right of way crosses three major snowmobile trails and dozens of local ones. It connects to major and local ATV trails, hiking corridors and the East Coast Greenway in Burnham. Using this right of way as a trail and broadband connection adds a major link across northern Waldo County.

The state bought those two rights of way not for rail traffic, but to preserve the corridors for the highest and best uses for Mainers. Those two connected rights of way would help bring true connectivity in Maine, add a valuable recreation asset and help show that in Maine we find answers, and don’t just hold meetings.

Duke Simoneau is a retired employee of the United States Department of Agriculture and a 30-year resident of Brooks.

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