February 18

Maine Voices: Still a chance to get broadband right

Maine can negate past mistakes by making sure a coming flood of federal dollars is used to get consumers connected.

By Dan Sullivan

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.

click image to enlarge

Dave Jackson upgrades the cable as a part of a broadband home installation for Time Warner’s Internet service.

2003 Maine Sunday Telegram file photo

about the author

Dan Sullivan of Cooper is an IT manager and chair of the Washington County Fiber Initiative, a grass-roots organization trying to bring high-speed Internet to Washington County and all of Maine.

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.


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.


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.

(Continued on page 2)

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