CONTRIBUTORS

Politicians: Connect Maine to the Internet

Posted Aug. 06, 2012, at 4:20 p.m.

Cynthia Dill’s recent OpEd piece on high-speed Internet in Maine was an example of one more Maine politician’s technological ignorance. ( “Maine’s massive Internet project crucial to job creation,” July 30 BDN). The reporter she scolded, Matt Drange, was in fact right when he said that the project’s impact on Maine jobs is still in the future. The much-touted Three Ring Binder project has yet to create more than a handful of jobs.

It’s sad to see in Ms. Dill yet one more politician who has no idea how high-speed Internet actually functions. Her statement that “now more than 100 communities from Skowhegan to Perry are connected to an information network fast enough to download a two-hour movie in half a second” is a prime example of this technological ignorance. Mainers can’t download a two-hour movie that fast in Portland, let alone in Perry or Skowhegan. Virtually no reader of this article can do any such thing. Ms. Dill blasted Matt Drange for “not visiting the areas of rural Maine or talking to real Maine people.” If she herself had ever done anything of the kind, she would know that the Three Ring Binder has made little difference to anyone’s Internet connection in rural Maine. It’s a highway without on-ramps.

Here’s a one-sentence primer on the Internet that Ms. Dill desperately needs: Your Internet is only as fast as your connection to it.

Here’s something else Ms. Dill may not know: There were already rings of high-speed telecommunications fiber in the same places where her pet project now runs. None of the fiber rings, the preexisting ones or Three Ring Binder, are doing rural Maine much good, because rural customers are not linked to them by high-speed connections, and many not connected at all. Most Maine telecoms today are not connecting their customers with fiber. Instead, they are still connecting them with DSL, cable and fixed wireless. These are utterly outmoded technologies. For example, in the first quarter of 2012 alone, 1.5 million AT&T and Verizon customers in other states dumped DSL in favor of fiber.

But it’s worse than that. If Ms. Dill were truly informed, she would know that telecom companies are looking on average for twenty-five homes per mile before they will expand their networks. Three Ring Binder has not changed that math.

Maine’s politicians need to understand this: Every home and business in the state needs to connect to the Internet by high-speed fiber. Fiber to the home and business is the only future-proof technology capable of providing the superfast Internet we need to compete in the global economy. Here’s proof: Recently the city of Lafayette, La., ran fiber to every home and business.

Two data centers moved into town, as well as numerous tech companies from California. Thousands of jobs were created.

Maine is in the enviable position of creating that economic revival here while still maintaining Maine’s pristine environment and natural beauty, by empowering the over 171,000 microbusinesses that are in Maine already, businesses that employ between one and four workers. There are countless entrepreneurs scattered all across this state. These microbusinesses and entrepreneurs simply cannot compete in the global economy using our outdated Maine Internet connections.

What’s just as bad as Ms. Dill’s boondoggle is that the waste is continuing. State agencies like ConnectME have spent over $8 million public dollars so far expanding obsolete DSL, cable and wireless networks in Maine. Our politicians are eagerly giving away our money to fund outdated, job-killing technology.

And by the way, the ability to download a movie in 0.5 seconds is hardly what Maine’s small businesses need to compete in this global marketplace. They need to get their information and products up to the Internet at high speed.

It’s long past time for us to connect every home and business in Maine to the existing fiber networks. If that ever happens, we will see an economic boom like the one residents of Lafayette, La., are enjoying today. If that ever happens, we will actually be able to download a two-hour movie in half a second, as Ms. Dill seems to think we are already doing — or better still, we’ll be able to upload our information and products for the world to buy.

But you can bet that if uninformed politicians like Ms. Dill continue to represent us, that day will never come.

Daniel Sullivan is an IT manager and chair of the Washington County Fiber Initiative, a grassroots organization trying to bring high-speed internet and jobs to Washington County and all of Maine.

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