Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ellsworth, Maine exemplifies local efforts to address U.S. telecom infrastructure deficit -- and need for federal assistance

Council backs broadband Internet project - The Ellsworth American: Lili Pew, a real estate agent who heads the EBDC broadband committee, pointed out many people have home-based jobs or businesses. She said the number one question she hears from her clients looking at Ellsworth is, “Do I have access to high-speed broadband?”

Running fiber lines to every residence in Ellsworth would be cost-prohibitive — in the range of $8 million to $12 million, according to Tilson — but there are other ways to reach parts of the city that Pew said are “in the black hole of technology right now.”

Paul said service that is “five, 10, 20 times faster” than what customers have currently can be provided wirelessly using the same type of service cell phone users have. Hamilton said Ellsworth “is blessed by having good towers in place already.”

This account out of Ellsworth, Maine illustrates the American can do spirit of meeting and responding to a challenge -- in this case constructing fiber optic telecommunications infrastructure to enable the locality to participate in the digital 21st century economy.

This story is playing out all over the United States as cities and towns like Ellsworth take their telecommunications destiny into their own hands. It also shows these localities will need significant funding assistance from the federal government to ensure all homes and businesses have fiber connections. Ellsworth's economic development TIF (tax-increment financing) program won't provide enough funding to ensure all of its residents will have fiber connections.

The Federal Communications Commission's Connect America Fund isn't up to the task and hasn't been sufficiently tapped by providers to build needed telecom infrastructure in areas where it's not quickly profitable. What's needed is a far more robust federal program to provide funding to states and localities on a scale like that of the Rural Electric Administration in the 1930s to bridge the gap in Ellsworth and other places like it.

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