Biddeford will use a $15,000 grant to create a broadband plan for the city. FILE PHOTO

BIDDEFORD — The city of Biddeford wants to know what areas of the community have high speed internet and areas that don’t. In particular, officials want to know where greater access to high speed internet is needed to meet future demands, as well what is needed to provide greater “digital inclusion” to low-to-moderate income people in the city.

To that end, officials have issued a request for proposals, or RFP, seeking a consultant to prepare a broadband plan. In developing the plan, the consultant would collect relevant data throughout Biddeford, meet with the city’s Broadband Team as needed to facilitate the project, lead a public meeting, and prepare a final written plan with findings and strategies. The plan shall include cost estimates for any proposed expansion of high–speed internet service.

The  completed plan should identify existing high-speed internet assets in the city; identify areas where adequate high-speed internet service is lacking and where augmented high-speed internet service will be required to meet the demands of future “smart” infrastructure; as well as identify the need for greater access to high-speed internet and computer equipment for low-to-moderate income individuals and families that will promote digital inclusion.

The broadband plan is necessary, Economic Development Coordinator Brad Favreau said , because “we don’t even know where high-speed internet is” in the city. Favreau is one of the points of contact for those interested in submitting and RFP.

Creation of the broadband plan will be funded by a $15,000 grant received in December from the Maine Community Foundation.

Biddeford’s proposal was “especially interesting,” Maine Community Foundation Senior Program Officer Maggie Drummond-Bahl said, because of its focus on “equity and inclusivity.

Biddeford is one of 11 municipalities and organizations awarded a total of $130,000 by the foundation. This was the first year the foundation awarded grants through its Broadband Fund, said Drummond-Bahl. She said the foundation will award grants through 2021 and then reassess whether to continue the program.

The grant was created because “ a lot of communities (are creating broadband access) without a lot of support,” said Drummond-Bahl.

About 20,000 homes in Maine do not have access to high-speed internet, said Mark Ouellette , CEO of broadband provider Axiom Technologies.

About 83,000 of the state’s 722,000 don’t have access to the minimum speed of internet considered to be usable, said Heather Johnson, director of ConnectME, a program of Maine state government that works  on internet access issues.

She said she believes that the number of homes without minimum speed internet is “quite a bit higher” than 83,000, and ConnectME is in the process of conducting a more thorough mapping of Maine.

“Broadband is important for “economic growth, education growth,” Community Development Coordinator Linda Waters said. “Everything is going broadband.”

Mayor Alan Casavant agreed. “When it comes to applying for jobs, completing schoolwork, and more, broadband is as important of a utility in 2018 as electricity and water,” he said. “It is important to know which members of our community are lacking access so that we can work to expand access in targeted areas.

Once the broadband plan is complete, the city will work to fill in the gaps where broadband is absent. Federal grants are available and could help with implementation, Water said.

The deadline to submit the RFP to the city of Biddeford is 5 p.m. Friday, April 26.

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— Associate Editor Dina Mendros can be contacted at 780-9014 or [email protected]

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