NORTHPORT — While talk of increasing broadband internet capacity to homes and businesses in Midcoast Maine is a high 2021 priority in many towns, a Northport resident decided not to wait, and has commissioned a Portland-based internet service provider to run fiber optic cable to his home.
In doing so, approximately 50 additional Northport residents are able to tap into the line, and will pay the standard industry rate payment tiers.
Brady Brim-DeForest works from home, but his businesses are global. He, like a growing number of Maine residents, relies on strong, steady and fast broadband service for work.
When he bought property at Bayside, the small shoreside village in Northport, he had access to DSL (digital subscriber line), which moves internet data over copper lines. But the service was slow and unsteady. So. he began scouting for internet service providers that would consider running fiber cable from the existing Route 1 fiber line to his neighborhood.
Fiber optic cable, made of plastic or glass, is considered superior for transmitting data at higher speed, and less susceptible to interference from high-voltage electricity.
Maine has the distinction of establishing a dark fiber network through its rural areas, thanks to an effort initiated a decade ago to build the 1,100-mile 3-Ring Binder around the state.
That 3-Ring Binder was to up the ante for Maine – its businesses, creative economy, and meet educational needs in the 21st Century. First Light Fiber, which acquired the 3-Ring Binder from Maine Fiber Company in 2019, leases fiber space to internet service providers, as well as telecoms.
But, although the fiber runs down Route 1, right through Northport, few homes and businesses have tapped into its powerful broadband capacity. Likewise, the entire Midcoast has yet to figure out how to increase access to this fiber for all citizens, which was built — 80 percent of it — with federal dollars.
“The private sector broadband investment model doesn’t work in rural Maine,” according to the 2020 State of Maine Broadband Action Plan. “The low population density and limited scale make it unprofitable for the private sector to expand their networks with private investment only. This persistent market failure is the driving force behind state, local and federal investments in high speed internet connectivity for rural areas.”
That’s the wall that Brim-DeForest bumped into while trying to improve his own connection reliability and speed.
“I sweated it for quite some time,” he said.
From Los Angeles, the internet capacity in Maine was something to reckon with, even though, he said, “we love the house and the area.”
He owns several technology companies with firms around the world, a model that, “enables distributive collaboration,” he said.
That entails video calls and pushing and receiving large presentation files. Which means he needs consistency and stability, and enough broadband, to support it all.
“I reached out to local ISPs, and eventually bumped into GWI through a neighbor I had met,” he said.
In fact, he reached out to a dozen ISPs, but all responses, if they did respond, were lukewarm to the idea of extending fiber a few miles into Bayside.
But with GWI, the Biddeford-based company that has been doing internet business in Maine since 2004, “it quickly proceeded from a dialog from no fiber to having several conversations with GWI President Kerem Durdag,” said Brim-DeForest. “We structured an agreement to take the plunge and build out fiber into Northport. GWI was responsive and easy to consider something creative.”
Working with Central Maine Power to install the poles, they broke ground in September, and hope to get the job done in one season, with the finalization date of make-ready Central Maine Power poles in place by June 21.
“After that, the fiber construction team comes in and makes the pole-to-pole fiber runs,” said Brim-DeForest.
The route extends down from Route 1 to Bayside, and along Bluff Road, providing 50 residents and and businesses with the option of hooking in. If they have long driveways or extensive setbacks from the road, they may have additional costs to bear, he said.
“It will be a nice thing for the community and I can’t wait,” he said.
How much did it cost to run the fiber to Bayside?
Brim-DeForest declined to name the price, but said the going rate is approximately $48,000 to $60,000 per mile of installing fiber lines.
“It’s a meaningful commitment for me,” he said. “But, the upside is to help invest in the community where I am intending to make a home, and I am thrilled to have fiber connectivity at home.”
One minute of download time is much better than 10 minutes, he said.
Meanwhile, the rest of Northport (population 1,503), like the broader Midcoast, has a committee now meeting regularly to figure out how to expand broadband to all citizens.
The members, including Barbara Ashey, Northport Town Administrator, ex officio; Ann Frenning Kossuth, Chair; Jamie Ritter, Vice Chair; Katie Crosby Foster, Secretary; Avery Kreamer, Co-Secretary; Julian Sheffield; and Brim-DeForest, are aligning the town’s vision with that of the burgeoning group of Midcoast municipalities whose select boards have deemed that sturdy and fast internet is fundamental to the economy.
"We seek to realize a community that is fully linked through high-speed Internet and digital technology to support the educational, economic, and social needs of Midcoast Maine," said committee chair Ann Frenning Kossuth.
The committee meets weekly at 5 p.m., Tuesday, at the town office and the public is able to join on the Zoom platform.
For more information, visit the Northport Broadband Internet Committee
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