2018-02-07 / Front Page

County-wide broadband study released

By Dee Menear Irregular Staff Writer

FARMINGTON — More than 100 local residents representing nearly every town and unorganized territory in Franklin County turned out for the unveiling of the Franklin County’s Broadband Planning Study. Brian Lippold from J.W. Sewall presented the results of the regional study Wednesday, Jan. 31 at Franklin Memorial Hospital.

The study also includes the Town of Livermore Falls in Androscoggin County.

“The tremendous display of representation shows just how important broadband is,” said Charlie Woodworth, Greater Franklin Development Council Executive

Director. “Broadband has been a vital topic of conversation for over 10 years. It is included in most municipalities’ comprehensive plans. Yet, here we are with much of Franklin County either unserved or underserved.”

Some of the challenges of unreliable connectivity were shared by representatives of education and healthcare fields. Glenn Kapiloff, director of Franklin County Adult and Community Education said many of those served by the adult education center have full-time jobs and would benefit from being able to complete studies from home but are unable to because of unreliable internet access.

Kapiloff also pointed out that many students at Mt. Blue High School and Foster Career and Technical Education Center lose connectivity once they leave the campus. Yet, more and more teachers are using laptops and web-based programs for homework. “Connectivity is vital for Foster Tech, adult ed and overall workforce development,” he said.

Robyn Raymond, director of Spruce Mountain Adult Education said Literacy Volunteers had a waitlist of people seeking to be tutored in basic English and reading skills. Given the rural landscape of the region, some of those who would benefit from the program face traveling 90 minutes one-way to meet with a tutor. Those individuals could be best served online if connection was not an issue.

“Reliable connectivity is a challenge for learners. It’s important so students can learn and become employed,” stated Raymond.

Lippold presented an analysis of current services and areas covered, as well as on overview of the 500-page study. “Connecting to the internet has gone beyond checking email,” Lippold said. A significant factor in developing Franklin County’s economic future includes attracting new business, and creating opportunities for people to work and learn from home, he said.

Lippold said current connections offered to residents include DSL through Fairpoint Communications and TDS Telecom; and hybrid fiber/coax networks available through Spectrum Cable and Beeline Cable. Other options include fixed wireless connectivity, 4G/LTE connections and satellite providers. Current connection speeds range from non-existent to high-speed starting at 100 Mbps upload/10 Mbps download offered through Spectrum.

However, there are gaps in service, Lippold pointed out. “The study identifies the gaps and offers solutions to close those gaps. The solutions presented would cover 99 percent of potential broadband customers,” he said. Some more rural areas where only one or two addresses would be served would be better served with internet through satellite or cell phone providers.

Cost to implement the county-wide initiative ranges from $70 million for so-called dark fiber connectivity which would offer unlimited speeds to $4.1 million for 10Mbps DSL. Lippold said while dark fiber connection is the most expensive, it offers unlimited bandwidth. The slower speed is more economical but will not be sufficient in the future. Alternatives also include 100Mbps hybrid fiber/coax cable estimated to cost $35 million or 25Mbps DSL for $11.3 million.

Lippold said other broadband projects have been funded by a combination of funds provide by the Internet provider, state and federal funding, as well as local contributions.

The next steps include meeting and negotiating with existing service providers and pursuing funding, Lippold said.

Woodworth said, “We will be looking for representatives from each town to help us to continue to spread awareness and support for this project. A goal is to form a county-wide committee to guide municipalities through the next steps.” Those interested in being involved are asked to contact their selectmen, and then contact Woodworth at cwoodworth@greaterfranklin.com.

“There is a lot of work yet to be done, and we’re excited to be working with all of you to make this vision a reality,” noted Woodworth.

The study is a result of the grass-roots effort to provide reliable internet connectivity to all citizens, businesses, students and healthcare patients. The Franklin County Broadband Initiative is a collaborative effort of The Opportunity Center of North Franklin County, AVCOG, GFDC, Rangeley Economic Opportunity Committee and the Sander River Business Association.

Communities contributed a portion of the money needed to match grants through the ConnectME Authority and County Tax Increment Finance to complete the study. The complete study can be found on the GFDC website, greaterfranklin.com.

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