SWANVILLE — Spectrum announced its broadband expansion into three towns, including Swanville, during an Oct. 21 press conference at the Town Office. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, spoke about how important investments of this sort are to Maine communities and her efforts to bring broadband expansion to Maine.

Spectrum officials, along with some officials from its parent company Charter Communications, and Swanville town officials spoke at the event about their effort to expand broadband in the area.

The company spent roughly $3 million bringing high-speed broadband to over 1,500 homes and businesses in Swanville, Etna and Newburgh, according to Melinda Kinney, regional senior director of government relations for Charter Communications.

Swanville Select Board Chair Cindy Boguen kicked off the effort a couple of years ago when she decided to put together a grant proposal to bring broadband infrastructure to Swanville, working with Spectrum, she said at the conference. The town had none at that time.

Searsport Select Board Chair Cindy Boguen speaks about her effort to help bring broadband internet to Swanville during a Spectrum press conference Oct. 21 at the Swanville Town Office. Photo by Kendra Caruso

The proposal process took a lot of her time and effort, she said. She had to completely map out the town, along with other tasks. The result: Spectrum decided to fully fund broadband expansion in the town, she said, which led to the three-town expansion. The company spent $792,000 on broadband infrastructure in Swanville.

The effort was born of a need for reliable high-speed internet that became apparent when students were learning at home during pandemic shutdowns, Boguen said. Many students did not have adequate access for learning from home.

“Now that we have Spectrum, our residents are able to learn and work from home, they can participate in telehealth communications with their doctors and they have much more reliable and connections … to work and live in today’s world,” she said.

Select Board Member Fredric Black spoke of his family’s struggles in not having access to reliable internet during the pandemic. They jumped between internet providers and had to work off mobile hotspots, which never connected, before the broadband expansion, he said.

Swanville Select Board Member Fredric Black talks about his struggles with unreliable internet before the Spectrum broadband expansion during a press conference Oct. 21 at the Swanville Town Office. Photo by Kendra Caruso

“During the pandemic, many children struggled to learn from home,” he said. “Telehealth appointments became increasingly important and people were unable to do them from home.”

He would have to drive his kids to places that had reliable internet connections so they could do schoolwork, he said. Spectrum’s expansion into the town will help businesses grow and give residents access to reliable internet.

Collins spoke about how critical broadband investments like this are to rural communities across Maine, which she said “hit home” during the pandemic when people needed internet for telehealth and schooling.

She spoke about a man from a Maine island who told her how senior citizens struggle with trying to use unreliable internet for telehealth appointments. She said they often had to take ferry rides to the mainland to access reliable internet. “That illustrated the digital divide in this country,” she said.

As one of the senators who put together the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, she said she realized that modern infrastructure also includes high-speed internet infrastructure.

“The first priority has to be to the unserved areas of our states,” she said, “those parts, like Swanville, that have no access to high-speed broadband at all. Then we need to focus on the underserved areas of the state, of which there are many.”

Though this project was fully funded by Spectrum, some towns seek or use public funding to partner with private providers to expand broadband infrastructure. Even though some of these projects are subsidized with public funds through private companies, those companies still have a financial burden to maintain the network, provide service and fund upgrades to the grid, Melinda Kinney said after the conference.

Public funds can help get broadband projects up and running because there are more costs associated with broadband expansion than just building costs, she said.

The upgrade has helped bring new homeowners to the town, now that they have access to reliable internet from their houses, Boguen said during the conference.

The expansion runs along the major roadways in town but there are still some smaller roads that were not part of the expansion, Black said after the conference. Spectrum made the service available to residents along the expansion route last spring/early summer. “It’s here, and we’re happy for the most part,” Black said.

Melinda Kinney, regional senior director of government relations for Charter Communications, talks about Spectrum’s broadband expansion into Swanville and other towns during an Oct. 21 press conference at the Swanville Town Office. Photo by Kendra Caruso