Edgecomb neighborhood seeks broadband grant

Mon, 02/22/2021 - 11:00am

    Jack Dexter moved to Edgecomb in 1990 and his Cod Cove Farm Road home has a spectacular view of the Sheepscot River. What the location lacks is reliable internet. Dexter and his six Cod Cove Farm Road neighbors have internet through Consolidated Communications which provides three megabytes per second. “ConnectME considers speeds that low as being underserved,” Dexter said. “We have internet, but there is a lot we can’t do because of the speed.”

    Dexter and his neighbors asked Consolidated Communications to expand broadband cable down the road, but the expansion proved too expensive. Dexter describes Consolidated Communications’ infrastructure use of copper instead of more modern equipment as being the major hurdle to better service. “Download time is minutes versus seconds,” he said. “Reliability is more problematic on the weekends where speeds go down to two megabytes. So many things require high speed such as downloading a movie. It’s very frustrating.”

    While current internet speed remains low, at one point it was lower. When Dexter moved to Edgecomb his original internet speed was one megabyte.But help may be on the way to Dexter and his neighbors. In July 2020, Maine voters approved a $15 million general obligation bond to fund projects which will expand broadband access for residents in underserved and unserved areas. 

    The Cod Cove Farm Road neighbors are submitting a ConnectME application to access funding for broadband access. ConnectME is still working on the application process, but Assistant Director Stephenie MacLagan expects the application deadline may be as soon as mid-April. “We hope to turn the grant around quickly and then open up another (application) window,” she said. “But the $15 million is just a drop in the bucket. The state estimates $600 million is needed to provide broadband expansion to the entire state.”

    Broadband access is not just a problem for a small neighborhood in Edgecomb. ConnectME estimates around 83,000 households lack broadband access. That figure does not include those who cannot afford it. Underserved areas are those where fewer than 20% of the households have speeds of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. Unserved areas are those where broadband service is not offered by a provider. According to ConnectME, eastern and northern Maine suffer from particularly poor connectivity options. The $15 million pot of money may grow as another $30 million in federal, local and private money will be invested, according to ConnectME. 

    In recent years, Dexter’s neighbors have talked with Spectrum about providing broadband internet. Cod Cove Farm Road is one third of a mile long. Three of the homes have school-age children and the rest are retirees. The neighbors believe reliable broadband internet is an essential service needed for their community. “A lot of communication is done online. You communicate with your doctor, and children now need to communicate with teachers online. More people are now working from home, and you can’t do all of that without decent internet,” he said.

    Dexter is 77. In 1990, he was working for A.G. Edwards, a financial services management company in Portland. Dexter lived in Cape Elizabeth, but most of his clients were in the Augusta region. “I drew a 30-mile radius around Augusta and found this location in Edgecomb,” he said. In 1990, Dexter’s home was the second one on Cod Cove Farm Road. The location now has seven residences. As years pass, Dexter and his neighbor realize broadband internet has become an essential service and formed a committee in hopes of finding a solution. The ConnectME grant does not require a local match, but applicants who contribute  funds to an expansion put themselves in a stronger position.

    “It’s a very competitive process so if there are matching contributions the (ConnectME) committee will likely rate those projects more favorably,” MacLagan said.