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Happy December, Waldo!

Right now the wind is whipping about the small fir trees I cut on our property and put out with white lights on them (two on our front porch and one out in the field); once again I will have to fix them when the wind passes. This seems to be a new trend as I remember doing it so many times last year I finally gave up.

This week, on Tuesday evening, Nov. 30, I attended a town meeting about bringing broadband to Waldo. I answered the survey a year or so ago, and it was good to get an update and participate in the conversation (my internet has slowly worsened over the course of the pandemic). There was a great contractor there from Mission Broadband who is helping support the town through the process.

There’s a committee of three Waldo residents and Select Board member Shirley Caler that has been spearheading this. A huge thank-you to them for all their work on this.

The state will be receiving $127 million in federal funding for broadband. The town currently has some grant money, as well. Towns will need to apply for state funding with a contractor and proposal already selected (this is clearly a lot of work for those involved). It is highly likely there will be a funding match component, but it is unknown at this point what that will be based on and whether part or all of it can be in-kind.

The federal and state governments have an interest in connecting rural communities to ensure that students have access to education and people can participate in telehealth (online access to health care providers). We will need to wait and see whether the grant process will take into account factors like percentage of the town population living at or below the poverty line, and cost of access.

There was discussion about the value of broadband and how it contributes to quality of life, property values, and ability to work and educate. There were concerns about the cost and impact on taxes from funding the installations of a utility like this, and the negative impacts of the internet in general.

Our Select Board should be commended for the work they’ve done to keep our taxes low and consistent over the years. Every once in a while though, something comes along that is worth investing in for the entire town. This may be one of those things. I’m sure there will be more good discussions about this going forward.

There are people in some places in town who don’t have access to high-speed internet. This can impact their ability to sell their house. There are kids who may not be able to participate in online learning during these times when sometimes classes learn only online for days or weeks at a time while they’re in quarantine.

It is my personal opinion that no student in Waldo should ever be left out of the classroom because of access to the internet. And I don’t believe it is in our interest to have properties that cannot sell even if they’re otherwise in great condition.

I think this may be a good time to reconcile that we have people who have been here a long time (most of their lives) and like things one way, and those who are younger or newer to the area and may like to see some changes. We’re all going to have to give and take and in the end things will be much better if we do.

There is a lot more I could say, but the important information to know is that there is definitely interest in the town in pursuing this, and there is some concern, as well. Shirley Caler, who is driving this work, has reached out to other towns about the possibility of “piggy-backing” with them to share the cost of a contractor and/or applying together for the state funding. This makes a lot of sense.

So far Morrill has indicated they’re not doing anything until they see what happens. Shirley has had positive conversations with Brooks, though, and Swanville seems like an obvious partner, as well.

The Broadband Committee would love to have more representation on the committee. If you’re interested in learning more or joining, you can email Shirley Caler at sdcaler@gmail.com. The committee meets twice a month, mostly over Zoom right now.

It’s important to get a head start on this so that we are ready to apply when the funding is available; it’s a complicated process and we don’t want to be left behind. Thanks again to the committee, and please consider joining if broadband is of interest to you!

Have a great week ahead!

 

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