Challenge of broadband access in rural Maine

In southern Maine it can be easy to take access to high-speed internet for granted, but for those who live in rural parts of the state, broadband access can be a challenge.”I tried satellite. I tried DSL. I tried a hot spot with one of the cellphone companies,” Penobscot County farmer Dan Kaplan said.After four decades of working in marketing and media in cities across the country, Kaplan followed his dream and moved to Maine.”I always wanted to do farming. I’ve wanted to do farming since I was a kid. Right away I realized, we have a problem here,”Kaplan said.Kaplan discovered he had no access to high-speed internet at his farm in Charleston. That meant he could not sell his grass-fed beef online.”We’re all used to what I’d call an Amazon experience. You order it, it’s shipped to you. You’re told where it is and when it’s going to arrive. To be successful in business these days you have to at least equal that,” Kaplan said.Kaplan’s workaround was putting an antenna on the highest tree of his farm. It brought him an internet connection and big business.”One line was $10,000 in June, and it was about $1,200 a year ago.”Kaplan’s solution only works if there is a clear line of sight to another antenna providing internet access.He said installing a fiber optic wire for internet would have been very expensive.”I said, ‘What will that cost?’ $18,000. We don’t have $18,000,” Kaplan said.It’s a problem many homes and businesses across the state face.”If you have many homes on that mile, it’s a lot cheaper to run it. If you don’t have many homes on that mile, it’s a lot more expensive,” ConnectME Director Peggy Schaffer said.ConnectME is working to fill the gap for rural communities through state funds. Schaffer estimates more than 80,000 people are without high-speed internet access, and it’s not just in northern Maine.”The thought that Cumberland County is all set is not true,” Schaffer said.She said there are pockets of Cumberland and York counties without high-speed internet.”Bringing broadband is not good enough. People have to use it to really get the economic benefit from it,” Schaffer said.It’s not just establishing the internet connection that’s expensive, the equipment to maintain it is expensive, as well. People who have never had internet access also need to learn how to use it.ConnectME is getting up to another $2 million in funding next year. Kaplan is proof of how much of a difference that funding could make.”There’s a demand for our products, but the only (way) to reach it is really digitally and to knock down the geographic barriers,” Kaplan said.

In southern Maine it can be easy to take access to high-speed internet for granted, but for those who live in rural parts of the state, broadband access can be a challenge.

“I tried satellite. I tried DSL. I tried a hot spot with one of the cellphone companies,” Penobscot County farmer Dan Kaplan said.

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After four decades of working in marketing and media in cities across the country, Kaplan followed his dream and moved to Maine.

“I always wanted to do farming. I’ve wanted to do farming since I was a kid. Right away I realized, we have a problem here,”Kaplan said.

Kaplan discovered he had no access to high-speed internet at his farm in Charleston. That meant he could not sell his grass-fed beef online.

“We’re all used to what I’d call an Amazon experience. You order it, it’s shipped to you. You’re told where it is and when it’s going to arrive. To be successful in business these days you have to at least equal that,” Kaplan said.

Kaplan’s workaround was putting an antenna on the highest tree of his farm. It brought him an internet connection and big business.

“One line was $10,000 in June, and it was about $1,200 a year ago.”

Kaplan’s solution only works if there is a clear line of sight to another antenna providing internet access.

He said installing a fiber optic wire for internet would have been very expensive.

“I said, ‘What will that cost?’ $18,000. We don’t have $18,000,” Kaplan said.

It’s a problem many homes and businesses across the state face.

“If you have many homes on that mile, it’s a lot cheaper to run it. If you don’t have many homes on that mile, it’s a lot more expensive,” ConnectME Director Peggy Schaffer said.

ConnectME is working to fill the gap for rural communities through state funds. Schaffer estimates more than 80,000 people are without high-speed internet access, and it’s not just in northern Maine.

“The thought that Cumberland County is all set is not true,” Schaffer said.

She said there are pockets of Cumberland and York counties without high-speed internet.

“Bringing broadband is not good enough. People have to use it to really get the economic benefit from it,” Schaffer said.

It’s not just establishing the internet connection that’s expensive, the equipment to maintain it is expensive, as well. People who have never had internet access also need to learn how to use it.

ConnectME is getting up to another $2 million in funding next year. Kaplan is proof of how much of a difference that funding could make.

“There’s a demand for our products, but the only (way) to reach it is really digitally and to knock down the geographic barriers,” Kaplan said.