Workshops will be held around the county starting next week in the first phase of a regional two-year effort to make high-speed internet the norm for residents.

For many, high-speed internet connection is either unaffordable or unavailable, which is why regional organizations are collaborating to bring reliable, high-speed, affordable internet to Mainers in every corner of the state.

“We use it like water or sewer or electricity,” said James Rather, director of strategic initiatives at Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission. “The internet is just so key now to everything we do in our daily lives.”

SMPDC and the Greater Portland Chamber of Governments are collaborating on the effort in Cumberland and York counties, and portions of Oxford county, as part of a greater statewide push on behalf of the Maine Connectivity Authority.

Just 13% of the state is considered to have sufficient access to high-speed internet, while 69% is underserved and 18% is unserved, according to Maine Connectivity Authority.

Portland, and portions of Westbrook, Scarborough, South Portland, Gorham, Falmouth, Gray and North Windham have sufficient access to high-speed internet, according to Maine Connectivity Authority, but Cape Elizabeth, Yarmouth, Freeport, Standish and Bridgton are considered to be underserved. Throughout the rest of Cumberland County, and much of Oxford County, are pockets of unserved areas with no access to high-speed internet.


Gov. Janet Mills in December pledged that all Mainers will have access to reliable and affordable internet by the end of 2024.

“(It’s) a very ambitious goal, and we’re working to help meet that goal,” Rather said.

The first phase of the regional plan is data collection and public feedback, which will be the focus of the scheduled workshops in the the area.

“The main purpose of the workshops is to have a bit of education to let people know that this effort is happening and give the opportunity to come in and tell us … what they need,” said Clara McCool, regional broadband coordinator for GPCOG. “Whether they’re having issues with accessing affordable devices, affording to subscribe to have internet access, or if it’s technical skills, digital skills.”

At the core of the initiative is digital equity, organizers say. Digital inequities can come in different forms, such as the inability to access the internet or a lack of tech skills to use it efficiently. The workshops in Portland, Bridgton, Brunswick and Gorham will all be held at local libraries.

“We decided to have them at libraries just because that is sort of a central place that people go when they don’t have internet access or they don’t have a computer to use,” McCool said. “The library has historically offered a lot of those services.”


Running 90 minutes each, the workshops will be discussion-based, and people are encouraged to drop by for either the full workshop or just for 10-15 minutes.

GPCOG began pursuing regional access to affordable high-speed internet in 2020 as the pandemic resulted in higher reliance on the internet.

“It just highlighted a lot of folks in Maine that didn’t have connectivity, especially having to attend school online,” McCool said, noting that some students had to go to library parking lots to use the WiFi in order to submit assignments.

Telehealth appointments were another product of the pandemic that not all Mainers could access.

“You’re talking to your doctor and the connection’s dropping out,” Rather said.

Through partnerships ranging from towns to colleges to local organizations, the ultimate goal is to have fiber-optic cables running throughout the state.


“Fiber optic is the state-of-the-art medium for connection to the internet. It’s future-proof,” Rather said. “There is no theoretical upper limit to the amount of information that fiber can carry. At least, it hasn’t been found yet.”

Part of that may involve working with internet service providers on how they can expand their services to rural areas. Often, Rather explained, internet service providers, such as Spectrum and Fidium, require a certain number of households in an area in order to expand services or risk doing so at a deficit. While people can still access the internet with cable providers, those speeds are often too slow for many functions the internet has today.

Another avenue is working with municipalities to create their own fiber optic networks to lease to internet service providers.

“The city of Sanford did something very similar, where the town or the city owns the fiber network,” Rather said. “There’s some municipal revenue that can be generated through this.”

South Portland pursued such a project last year, but it never came to fruition and funding was recently reallocated.

While the goal of bringing high-speed internet to all Mainers by the end of 2024 is a tall order, it’s possible through collaboration, Rather said.

“This is a two-year project through the Maine Connectivity Authority,” he said. “There’ll be a whole way of bringing institutions in, bringing other nonprofits in. Local governments are going to be a huge part of this.”

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