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Lincolnville officials join regional broadband group

By Susan Mustapich | Feb 16, 2021

LINCOLNVILLE — Selectmen see access to high speed internet service as out of reach for many of Lincolnville's residents, even though the service is available to most homes in the town.

LCI, a local internet and telephone company, owns the fiber-optic cable that provides high-speed internet service in Lincolnville. Fiber-optic cable is now installed on about all but 8 miles of town roads. LCI is currently connecting 50 additional households with K-12 students and teachers to broadband internet, through a program funded by the federal Cares Act.

The Board of Selectmen is looking at alternatives for bringing affordable broadband access to Lincolnville.

On Feb. 9, Town Administrator David Kinney and Selectman Josh Gerritsen reported on attending a Mid-Coast Broadband Coalition meeting late in January along with members representing the towns of Camden, Rockport and Hope.

The group is newly formed, and going through the process of reaching agreement on how it will define high speed internet and access, according to Kinney and Gerritsen.

Deb Hall, chairwoman of the Mid-Coast Broadband group spoke to selectmen in early January, and invited them to join.

On Feb. 9, selectmen heard from Susan Corbett, founder of the National Digital Equity Center. Corbett is former Chief Executive Officer of Axiom, a broadband internet company based in Machias. She is an advocate for access to affordable broadband service and computer equipment, as well as digital literacy.

Vice Chairman Keryn Laite asked Corbett what speed Lincolnville should set as a goal for internet speed.

A goal of 100 Mbps download and upload speeds is what she recommends. Symmetrical is the term she used for download and upload speeds that are the same.

The Federal Communication Commission defines internet speeds higher than 25 Mpbs download and 3 Mpbs upload as needed for household use with multiple individuals on streaming high definition video and multiparty video conferencing, gaming or telecommuting.

The Cares Act defines households with internet speeds lower than 25/3 Mpbs as underserved.

Corbett also talked about small communities, including Islesboro, forming nonprofit broadband networks. The island community charges a monthly fee of $30 to make internet affordable, with the rest of the cost raised through local taxes, she said. She recommends Lincolnville maintain an active broadband committee, even if it joins with other towns.

Selectmen Gerritsen and Jordan Barnett-Parker said LCI's basic broadband service, with 25 Mpbs download and 3 Mpbs, is expensive at a cost of $70.

Lincolnville selectmen have had numerous discussions on the subject of access to high speed internet with representatives from LCI and others. While fiber-optic cable is installed on the utility poles on most of the town's roads, it is not connected to many of the homes along those roads.

Costs of connecting individual households to fiber-optic cable and to activate service  are free for student and teacher households who signed up for the LCI's Care Act initiative, according to LCI representatives.

These same costs may be preventing other residents from signing up for broadband service, according to selectmen.

Even the cost of the equipment needed in the home could be unaffordable for some Lincolnville residents, Laite said Feb. 9.

"Some in this town will not be able to afford the equipment in the home to finish the connection," he said. Laite thinks there will be challenges like that in other towns as well. "Having fiber to the home is one thing, connectivity is another," he said.

Households with low incomes who may not be able to afford any of the costs of internet access will be an issue for Lincolnville, according to Chairman Ladleah Dunn.

Kinney asked selectmen about goals Lincolnville will bring to the Mid-Coast Broadband group. The goals of symmetrical 100 Mbps speeds and broadband access defined as connection to the home would give the group something to react to, he said.

Selectmen Jordan Barnett-Parker and Gerritsen spoke in support of towns owning the broadband network as a way to achieve affordability and access.

The Board of Selectmen initially opted to have Gerritsen and Kinney participate in the Mid-Coast Broadband Coalition through the end of February, and to re-evaluate Lincolnville’s involvement at that time.

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