Dedham, MAINE – On a chilly December morning, John Moore observed his lineman fastening fiber-optic cable between utility poles along a wooded road in the northeastern town of Dedham, Maine. The task is part of a broader initiative to provide high-speed internet to every person in the state, both in urban areas like Portland, and in the rural regions where more than half of Maine’s population lives.
Efforts are underway to provide high-speed internet access to all residents, regardless of whether they live in urban or rural areas. Recently, Governor Janet Mills announced that the state has been awarded an additional $5.5 million in federal funding for its “Internet for All” initiative. This grant is a part of nearly $250 million in federal funding that Maine is expected to receive.
According to the 2020 Broadband Plan for Maine, it is estimated that it will cost at least $600 million to expand coverage to the 17,502 miles currently unserved by fiber-optic or coax cable. To ensure digital equity for all residents, regardless of location, the state established the Maine Connectivity Authority in 2021 as a semi-public agency. The agency aims to leverage state and federal investments in broadband infrastructure through partnerships with private providers and rural communities. Governor Janet Mills has also pledged that by the end of 2024, all Maine residents who desire a reliable and affordable internet connection will have access to one.
The Maine Connectivity Authority, a quasi-public agency, has been established to leverage state and federal investment in broadband infrastructure through partnerships with private providers and rural communities. The goal is to provide reliable and affordable internet access to every person in Maine by the end of 2024. The first step in achieving this goal is to lay fiber-optic cable in remote regions. Subcontractors like Moore Fiber Solutions are working to install miles of cable as part of Dedham’s broadband infrastructure buildout. While some argue that the cost of laying and maintaining fiber-optic cable in remote regions is too high, broadband experts argue that fiber-optic cable is the only platform that provides equal upload and download speeds and is the best, fastest internet available.
The Last Mile
In the past, many internet service providers (ISPs) have shied away from providing connectivity for the final stretch, known as the “last mile,” between the ISP network and homes and businesses. This is because the cost of laying and maintaining fiber-optic cable in remote areas is considered to be too costly.
“Before we started laying fiber, some of these folks only had a phone line, maybe dial up,” Moore said.
Even when cable does pass near a home or business, running the last stretch of fiber to the premises was a costly proposition, especially in less densely populated areas.
“Few could afford it,” Moore said. “Last year as we were laying cable, kids would be sitting on their porch without the ability to connect to school online. Getting fiber’s gonna change their life.”
Moore added that no other type of internet can match fiber optic-broadband. “It’s as small as a piece of hair. It sends communications [at] the speed of light, right into your home. It is the best, fastest internet you can get.”
While critics in cash-strapped regions contend fiber is excessive, broadband experts like Downeast Broadband Utility President Danny Sullivan think otherwise.
“We started with dial-up, then went wireless, then fixed wireless. We’ve gone to cable. We’ve done satellite,” Sullivan said. “All these technologies connect to the internet backbone, which is already fiber.
“The problem for most rural places, particularly remote ones, is the last mile (the last leg to the consumer) is copper, cable, or fixed wireless because it’s cheaper. But it’s far inferior.”
Sullivan said everyone – not just tech-heavy businesses – needs faster speeds that fiber allows.
“Fiber is the only platform that provides equal download and upload speeds. Whether you’re a content creator, a business, a health entity, or even a retired person receiving telehealth care, fast upload speed is a fundamental necessity. It’s time to stop reinventing this wheel and get fiber installed to businesses and homes in all communities, no matter how rural.”