COOPER — According to a news story last month in the Portland Press Herald (“Industry executives say ‘old Yankee mentality’ in Maine slows Web progress,” Jan. 9), executives from Maine’s Internet service providers, including Fletcher Kittredge, the CEO of GWI, a Biddeford-based Internet service provider, agreed that the state’s residents and their “old Yankee mentality” are partly to blame for Maine’s poor broadband service.

Let’s explore the Red-Queen-through-the-Looking-Glass logic of this claim – and its ulterior motives – for just a minute before this absurd news item passes into the dustbin of history.

Not long ago, the state spent $26 million of public funds to build a network of high-speed optical fiber called Three Ring Binder. It was a glorious exercise in welfare for wannabe corporations: Almost every single mile of it was laid down on top of high-speed fiber already owned by existing telecom companies.

During the rush to promote the project, Fletcher Kittredge himself told me on multiple occasions that with Three Ring Binder in place, Internet service providers would flock to rural Maine and build what is known as the “last mile” – the actual connection between “middle-mile” networks like Three Ring Binder and our rural homes and businesses.

BLAME THE TELECOM INDUSTRY

But the fact is that Kittredge’s scenario has never played out. Virtually no last-mile development has occurred without the spending of additional public dollars. Let’s just be polite and say that Kittredge and the other supporters of Three Ring Binder were sadly mistaken.

To cover this gap between the self-serving rhetoric of Three Ring Binder supporters then and the reality of the failure of Three Ring Binder now, those who pushed for it have come up with a new theory: The problem is not that the project was a boondoggle, but that our own “Yankee mentality” stands in the way.

For those of us in rural Maine, this adds insult to injury. The eastern and northern parts of our state have plenty of entrepreneurs, homeowners, business people, students and others who have been howling for these high-speed networks for years. They know that high-speed Internet would make our rural economies blossom as never before in the history of our state.

The real reason development has not taken place is that the telecom industry wants, on average, 25 homes per mile before they will expand their networks using their own money.

Just make a few calls, as I have, to any of the VPs of Maine’s telecom industry. They’ll tell you that the sparse rural population will not give them the profits they want. It has nothing to do with a “Yankee mentality.” It’s all about money.

Where do we go from here?

Ironically, Kittredge is right about one thing: Public money is needed. But ConnectME and other grant organizations are already providing millions of dollars of public money to the telecoms to expand their rural networks with little or no cost to them. And yet still we are failing to get rural Maine connected to fiber-optic, high-speed Internet.

NO MORE BOONDOGGLES

Why? What do these grant organizations actually fund? They pay telecom companies to add to existing networks of fatally slow, obsolete, copper-wire-based technologies such as DSL and cable. This is more corporate welfare that is providing huge profits for the telecoms at little to no expense to them.

It isn’t lack of demand, it isn’t digital literacy, and it isn’t a so-called Yankee mentality that is impeding broadband in rural Maine. There are two obstacles:

We are not putting enough public dollars into this effort. Over the next few years, billions of dollars of federal funds are going to become available for improving the national Internet infrastructure. Maine needs to use its share to provide true high-speed Internet.

We are not spending our public dollars wisely. What little public money we do spend on the last mile is given to the telecoms to build the wrong kind of networks.

Instead of relying on antiquated copper-based technology, the telecoms should be installing high-speed, future-proof, state-of-the-art optical fiber links to our homes and businesses to the middle mile, whether that middle mile is Three Ring Binder or the telecoms’ own fiber-optic networks.

I suggest that the real cause of our Internet problem is not a “Yankee mentality,” but a lack of “Yankee ingenuity” on the part of our politicians and telecom executives. Let’s use some of that ingenuity to spend our funds wisely. The time is now to build the right Internet last mile.

— Special to the Telegram