Financial strategist Joshua Hayward recently wrote a thoughtful article for this space citing some obstacles to business investment in Maine (“Problems to solve before Maine can attract ventures,” Nov. 8). But it surprised me that one item was not on his list. In fact, it should have been at the very top. The lifeblood of the new economy has a complicated name: universal symmetrical high-speed Internet. Don’t let your eyes glaze over here — let me break this 50-cent term into meaningful pieces.
“Universal” means everyone has access to high-speed Internet. Not just Maine No. 1 (Kittery to Bangor), but also Maine No. 2 (Bangor to Fort Kent). Both Maines should be able to offer potential investors, small-business owners, innovative entrepreneurs and all residents the fastest networks in the country.
Think of this: Where does business happen today, or rather, where will it happen in the future? It will happen wherever hardworking Mainers live, from Kittery to Fort Kent — in both Maines. It will happen in office buildings and home offices, in garage workshops, in conference rooms, in coffee shops and parks and wherever else the people of Maine are moving and living. That’s why we need a universal high-speed Internet: an Internet connection between the Web and every home, business, government office, hospital, doctor’s office, college, school, library, park bench and blade of grass in the state.
“Symmetrical” means this network must offer the same high speed for downloading information as it does for uploading information. Currently, high-speed Internet in Maine offers transmission rates of about 3 megabytes per second for downloading, but only 750 kilobytes per second uploading. To use a telephone analogy, that’s the equivalent of being able to listen to 3 million words, but to speak only 750,000. Imagine trying to communicate with someone else through a phone that only allows you to blurt out one word for every four words the other person says to you. Not exactly a balanced conversation.
Yes, at this time most Internet users download more information than they upload. But that is only because the future has not arrived. In the future, the uploading of information products will be far more important to business than downloading.
Innovators, entrepreneurs and people with small businesses already know that being able to put data up on the Web at high speed is critical to their livelihoods. Think of a producer of videos, or a designer creating a color catalog for a client and sending it to a printer, or a small business owner selling simultaneously to dozens (or hundreds, or thousands) of online customers. Business needs to be able to “talk back to the Web” at full speed. There are several projects afoot to push the Internet highway farther out into the unconnected reaches of Maine. But connection to high-speed Internet is not enough if that connection is not also symmetrical.
In order for both Maines to succeed well into the future, we have to be looking far forward. Historically, Maine has been full of hard workers and innovators, people who have the spirit of work hard-wired into their very beings. But we need to build a Maine that not only holds on to its own best and brightest workers and students but also attracts those outside the state to come and join us. Providing symmetrical high-speed Internet is central to that effort. The desire to live here is infectious — just ask the tourists dragging their feet on their way back to Massachusetts or New York. We have clean water, clean air, good schools and great people. We have the lifestyle to make innovators want to live in our state. Making Maine the most technologically advanced, symmetrically connected state in the nation will make it possible for them to live out that dream.
Currently, the small town of Cooper in Washington County, along with part of the neighboring unorganized territory of Cathance Township, is trying to make our part of this happen. We’re working hard to leverage all the resources available to bring this high-speed Internet to all of our residents. We are negotiating with phone companies, cable companies, wireless companies and other interested parties to make symmetrical high-speed Internet a reality here.
It’s a small project but a promising one. It’s our hope to bring attention to this effort so that both states of Maine can benefit by its example. And if Maine sets an example, it will teach the rest of our nation the way to the future. That old election phrase, “As Maine goes, so goes the nation,” can apply in business too.
Danny Sullivan is IT manager at the Woodland (Baileyville) pulp mill and chairman of ConnectingCooper.com, a grassroots committee working to bring symmetrical high-speed Internet to Cooper and the shores of Cathance Lake. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Editor’s note: The Bangor Daily News welcomes submissions for business columns. They should be 650 – 850 words, and should be unique to the BDN and pertinent to the Maine business community. Columns, a head and shoulder shot and a short bio can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.