BANGOR, Maine — Andrew Vamvakias wanted to make sure that Maine’s needs weren’t ignored as the federal government started to divvy up stimulus dollars for rural broadband development.
So the president of Bangor’s Premium Choice Broadband company went to Washington, D.C., this week to talk to Maine’s congressional delegation and two federal agencies about the possibilities he sees for the state.
“It went great,” Vamvakias said Wednesday. “The way we’re looking at it is that this money has been earmarked for broadband, and no other state needs it as we do.”
He testified Tuesday at meetings held by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service, and also met with Democratic Reps. Chellie Pingree of the 1st District and Michael Michaud of the 2nd District. He also met with senior staffers of Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe.
“I think it was very well received,” Vamvakias said.
Stimulus money for broadband projects requires a 20 percent equity investment by a company, Vamvakias said. His company has $1 million to invest, and so potentially could be eligible for $4 million in matching funds.
“That money, I’m going to spend it locally, some regionally, and a little bit nationally,” Vamvakias said. “The money gets sprinkled all over.”
Premium Choice Broadband is one of several small, growing Internet service providers in the state that provide wireless Internet access to remote areas where there is dial-up or no service. When the company began last February, it served a 500-square-mile area and had fewer than 100 customers. One year later, it had 1,000 ac-counts and an estimated 2,500 square miles of Internet coverage.
The company has built towers on Blair Hill in Greenville and in Sangerville. Vamvakias said that he has 25 new locations that could be “up and running” with wireless Internet within six months, including Glenburn.
“The stimulus money would allow me to do it faster,” he said.
Vamvakias said he emphasized to the delegation and at the public meetings in Washington that money given directly to small businesses like his tend to be spent rapidly to stimulate the economy. He also testified about post-award compliance, mentioning to the agencies that small businesses often don’t possess in-house legal counsel or compliance departments.
“All our people are out there hooking people up,” he said.
Vamvakias sounded enthusiastic about his trip to the nation’s capital.
“We just felt it was vitally important that the Maine congressional delegation understand how there is indeed significant need in Maine, and how companies such as ours can use that money and do great things with it,” Vamvakias said.