Enriching Lives and Thriving Communities Through Municipal Broadband

The Valuable Role of Municipal Broadband in Helping our Households and Businesses Prosper

At this year’s MTCMA New England Management Institute OTELCO was part of a panel presentation on the role municipal broadband has to play in rural development. Tracy Scheckel, OTELCO’s marketing, and PR manager spoke, along with Casco Bay Advisors’ Brian Lippold and Charlie Woodworth, who is the executive director at Greater Franklin County. Here is a peek at just some of the great information they had to share.

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Casco Bay Advisors

Casco Bay Advisors helps municipalities “through the process of ensuring the universal availability of affordable, reliable high-speed Internet.” Together with these communities, they tackle many common challenges, such as:

  • Universal Availability: Assuring that broadband is available throughout a town, not just in the densely populated areas
  • Dissatisfaction with Existing Providers: How to navigate existing relationships with ISPs that are not meeting expectations
  • Out Migration: The loss of young people who move out of rural areas due to poor broadband
  • Economic Development: How adequate bandwidth can open business opportunities within the town

Casco Bay’s Principal, Brian Lippold, highlighted their recommendation that municipalities start their broadband journey by creating a broadband committee. “You will want a small committee that is well represented,” explained Lippold, “so have people with a finance or accounting background, an educator, someone with a technical background, and I always encourage communities to have a young adult and a high school student on the committee. They are the ones who are going to end up with the network down the road, they are probably the biggest Internet users, and they bring an interesting perspective.”

Brian also had some great information to share about the ConnectME Authority that you can see below.

Franklin County Broadband Initiative

Charlie Woodworth painted a picture of Franklin County’s current broadband initiative. “It was a grassroots effort of local citizens and business leaders” Woodworth recounted, “it was a discussion about what’s getting in the way of our progress.” For Franklin County, their number one problem was out-growth. Though they have great high-schools and the benefit of being the home University of Farmington, graduates were not staying in the area. They had to find a way to grow their communities by keeping young people in Franklin County. “Growth was what was behind out initiative, and broadband is the Keystone to providing that growth.”

The first step was working with the ConnectME Authority. The authority connected them to similar municipalities who had varying levels of success approaching the same broadband initiatives. From those conversations, Woodworth and the county realized they were facing a unique situation, as they were not just one town looking for funding, but an expansive county full of individual communities. To meet this challenge, they determined they had to have every town actively participating in the broadband effort. So, they created a broadband committee with a representative from each community in the county, and did what every good grassroots movement does, appealed to the people.

“It couldn’t just be the broadband committee and us talking to elected officials,” explained Woodworth, “we had to get the people in those communities to speak up.” With their communities behind them, the broadband committee was able to get letters of support from all 22 towns and 14 townships in Franklin County and submit a “data-heavy” plan to the ConnectME Authority. Now, the county is in talks with two interested ISPs, and, for the first time, they can see their existing broadband assets and the real costs of future infrastructure, which you can review below.

OTELCO’s Work with Alton and Argyle

OTELCO’s part of the presentation focused on our work with Alton and Argyle Township, in Penobscot county. As our regular readers might remember, OTELCO has been working with Alton and Argyle for many months now on two separate broadband initiatives.

Our work with Alton started in 2017 when, with the help of a ConnectME grant, OTELCO brought Lightwave fiber Internet to 69 homes along Bennoch Rd. In early 2019, the town approached us about extending that build to the entire town. “When we met with the town” recalled OTELCO’s Tracy Scheckel, “there were 260 additional homes and about 35 road miles to build. The ballpark was about $700,000, so the town said, ‘well if we come up with $150,000 what could you do?’” That conversation led to the successful collaboration below:

Word of OTELCO’s work in Alton quickly spread in Penobscot county and a case of “fiber-envy” developed in Argyle Township. In the video below, Tracy highlights her experience with Penobscot county, and how a phone call led to Penobscot County being awarded a Phase 1 Planning Grant, on behalf of the Unorganized Territory of Argyle, to work with OTELCO to determine the feasibility of building a Fiber to the Premise network in the town.

Bringing Fiber to Your Town

OTELCO greatly appreciates these opportunities to work alongside entities like Casco Bay Advisors and Greater Franklin County, to share Municipal Broadband information. Bringing connectivity to rural communities across the country is our passion, and it is what we have been doing for over a century in Maine, Alabama, Missouri, Massachusetts, Vermont, and West Virginia.

Next week, we are going to look at what the individual citizens can do to help facilitate broadband feasibility studies for their community. In the meantime, if you are interested in Municipal Broadband, please download our all-inclusive guides. 

Download OTELCO's Free Municipal Broadband Guide