By this summer, Mainers without broadband Internet access may have a handy tool to find out how close they are to faster Web surfing.

The state is using a $1.8 million federal grant to create a map of where broadband access is and isn’t around Maine.

The goal is to help people figure out if they’re in, or moving to, a place with faster access, and for companies to determine whether there are opportunities to be gained by expanding their broadband footprints.

The state’s ConnectME Authority is mapping the state with help from Internet providers and users, who can use a tool at connectmespeedtest.maine.gov to see how fast they can download and upload data. The state will be able to mark off the spot entered by each user as having broadband or slower access.

The data will be shared with federal authorities, who are creating a national broadband map and collecting connection speeds to start a database on Internet access data.

Phillip Lindley, executive director of the ConnectME Authority, said the state isn’t looking to learn much about where broadband is, “but the more important information of where it isn’t.”

ConnectME, created by the Legislature to stimulate investment in the state’s technology infrastructure, would like to see those areas where broadband hasn’t reached shrink, and eventually disappear.

Finding out where those areas are allows the agency to be more proactive about encouraging expansion of faster access, he said.

Broadband providers initially resisted offering information on service areas because it lets competitors see where a company’s reach is limited, Lindley said. But the map will provide a bit of a marketing boost because when a customer uses the map and it identifies broadband access, it will also give information on which company or companies are providing it, he said.

Companies can use the map to expand coverage by seeing how areas that aren’t well-served by broadband access can connect to the “three-ring binder” project to expand fiber-optic service in rural Maine, Lindley said.

Jeff Nevins, a spokesman for FairPoint Communications, said his company is cooperating with ConnectME’s mapping effort. “Anything that we can do to enhance broadband development is a good thing,” he said.

Nevins noted that FairPoint has its own mapping program across northern New England. Consumers without broadband access can log in and add their names to lists of those interested in getting faster Internet service.

He noted that the town manager of Fayette recently encouraged residents to use the Web site (iwantmybroadbandfrom fairpoint.com) to get broadband for their community, so FairPoint saw enough interest to expand access to that town.

“It maps the demand, and then once we see the demand, we can hopefully try to meet it,” Nevins said.

 

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]