Grant boosts effort for high-speed internet access


WINDHAM — An effort to improve high-speed internet access in four Lakes Region towns has received a $15,000 boost from Maine’s state broadband authority.

The ConnectME Authority, part of the state government that focuses on expanding broadband – or high speed internet – in towns and households across Maine, has awarded a Community Broadband Planning Grant grant to the Lakes Region Broadband Partnership. The partnership is an effort between the communities of Gray, Raymond, Standish and Windham.

The four towns have been working with local stakeholders – including businesses, public schools, residents and Saint Joseph’s College – in order to better understand the region’s existing broadband capacity and needs moving forward, according to a press release from the Windham Economic Development Corporation announcing the grant award.

“The Windham Economic Development Corporation has been pleased to work with such a dedicated group of people from throughout the Lakes Region to get us to this point in our process,” WEDC Director Thomas Bartell said in the release.

Bartell also said in an interview that he has been functioning as a convener of sorts for the partnership.

The partnership aims to strengthen regional broadband infrastructure in order to support business growth, encourage technology companies to relocate to the region, grow the local tourism economy, encourage telemedicine and home monitoring services that can help seniors age in place, increase digital learning access at schools and libraries, and support growth at Saint Joseph’s College, according to the release.

The grant funding will support the partnership’s work with AXIOM Technologies on a design for 40 miles of fiber-optic cable that, if built, would serve as a “backbone” for broadband connectivity in the four towns with different access points along the cable route that could provide high speed internet access for local businesses, schools, residents, among others.

AXIOM Technologies is a Maine company based in Machias that works to connect rural communities to broadband. AXIOM President Mark Ouellette said in an interview that the company has worked with municipalities on other Community Broadband Planning Grant projects funded by the state.

“Everything is starting to run through that pipe of connectivity. And I think towns generally in Maine are starting to understand that this is an important component for their growth, or to sustain their populations,” Ouellette said. “I think that’s really the forces that are going on in the Lakes Region and going on across Maine.”

The $15,000 ConnectME grant funding will be used to develop the design for the potential Lakes Region fiber project, and not to actually begin any construction.

Bartell said that the design phase could take about six months, that each individual town will have a chance to review the plan, and that the towns and the partnership as a whole would then decide whether or not to move forward with the project.

The leading idea for the design is to connect to the state’s Three Ring Binder at the intersection of Routes 35 and 114 in Standish and then run fiber optic cable from there to the other towns. However, both Bartell and Ouellette said other design options could be on the table.

Three Ring Binder is a statewide fiber highway of sorts that runs in three “rings” through southern and northern Maine and Down East with the goal of bringing high speed internet to rural communities.

“The WEDC looks forward to continuing to work with our Lakes Region Broadband Partnership communities of Gray, Raymond, Standish and Windham, and with the professionals at AXIOM Technologies to complete the goals of the ConnectME grant and to take our region to the next step in securing our digital future,” Bartell continued in the WEDc press release.

Ouellette also noted in the release that the towns involved have been proactive about the importance of broadband access.

“We are excited to partner with the Windham Economic Development Corporation and the four town managers who understand how important fiber optic connectivity is to help give their citizens the tools needed to not only succeed in an increasingly digital economy, but to also help the region move forward economically,” Ouellette said.

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.