Getting high-speed Internet to Piscataquis County a priority for council

Posted March 13, 2012, at 10:26 p.m.

GREENVILLE, Maine — Individuals and businesses in northern and western Piscataquis County know all too well the disadvantages of not having high-speed Internet.

The Piscataquis County Economic Development Council is trying to fix that.

The council, led by Business Development Director Janet Sawyer, presented a letter to representatives of U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud on Monday, asking for their help in getting reliable, high-speed Internet to rural parts of Piscataquis County.

“There are federal programs, such as the USDA Rural Development program, being offered for just this situation,” said Sawyer. “We want to make sure our [representatives] are watching for those to come up and they support those. We just want to keep it in front of them.”

In the letter, the council said the broadband access provided by the ConnectME Authority of Piscataquis County has a very low level — only 768 kilobytes per second, or dial-up speed.

“High-speed access for homes requires a minimum of 3 megabytes per second, at-home businesses need at least 10 mbps, while business and industry require 100 mbps,” read the letter.

Asking for help was necessary, said Sawyer, because the Three Ring Binder broadband project that will connect the state from Saco to Madawaska to Calais does not include towns such as Greenville, Monson and Guilford.

The broadband line heads up to Dover-Foxcroft from Newport, east to Milo and then north to Millinocket, thus leaving the northern and western portions of Piscataquis County in the dark.

Sawyer hopes federal funding will change that.

Diane Edmondson, who co-owns Kineo View Motor Lodge in Greenville with her husband, George, also said she would like for things to change.

Edmondson said her area of Greenville is void of high-speed Internet and must use dial-up. The lodge is forced to use a wireless USB card from a cellphone provider in order to confirm reservations.

“It’s a pain that we don’t have [high-speed Internet],” said Edmondson. “People have to come in and use our card in our office.”

Edmondson said there’s high-speed Internet a few roads down from her in Shirley.

“But we can’t get it here because it’s not populated enough in our little section,” she said. “They jumped over us and went to a section that’s more populated.”

Because it’s not financially feasible for a private company to hook up sparsely populated areas of the county, public money is the way to go, said Sawyer. Piscataquis County has only 4.3 people per square mile.

“It’s crucial to get these rural parts of Maine hooked into the rest of the world,” said Sawyer. “As you can imagine, it provides tremendous opportunities for these rural areas for economic development.”

Ed Gilman, a spokesman for Michaud, said the congressman understands the disadvantages of not having high-speed Internet.

“The congressman has consistently supported the expansion of broadband throughout our state and will do whatever he can to help Piscataquis County,” said Gilman in an email.

The Maine Fiber Co., which oversees the Three Ring Binder broadband project, said on its website that it completed 500 of the 1,100 miles of fiber cables on Dec, 31, 2011. Sawyer said the other 600 miles should be completed by the end of the year. The project is 80 percent publicly funded and 20 percent privately funded.

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