Like many other small towns and rural communities around the country, Franklin County of Maine is planning to put in place its own broadband infrastructure.
Much of the tiny community’s efforts are result of yeoman’s work being conducted by an organization called, The Rural Broadband Initiative. RBI was formed in January 2003 in response to the outcry over the lack of options for high-speed Internet access in Franklin County, Maine at that time.
Maine currently ranks fifth among states in overall Internet usage and substantial anecdotal evidence of strong potential demand for high-speed Internet, the major providers of digital subscriber line (DSL) and cable Internet. However, the main incumbents service providers in the area – Verizon and Adelphia, have ignored Franklin Country.Farmington and Wilton are the two largest towns in Franklin and occupy the Southeast corner of the county, abutting three neighboring counties (Oxford, Somerset, and Androscoggin) with considerably better penetration of Broadband service.
This community seemed to be an ideal next step for expansion but it never seemed to happen. In order to correct the imbalance, in July 2003, RBI received a grant from the Maine Community Foundation to conduct a survey of the potential demand forBroadband Internet access in Farmington and Wilton in the hopes of catalyzing a build out of some form of broadband in the region. The survey is currently underway and will be published in February of 2004.
So far the initial reports have been encouraging. “Surprisingly vigorous,” is how Sam Elowitch of RBI says of the response thus far. “Folks here really want it and are willing to pay for it, despite low population density and a weak business and tax base. We are considering the creation of grant-supported nonprofit wireless ISP (WISP) that would invest in WiMax technology for our area, with the mission of covering as many people as possible in our region.”
RBI’s work has gotten the attention of Verizon (and a Verizon reseller, Great Works Internet [GWI]) has begun to offer DSL service in the town centers of Farmington and Wilton. This is a very welcome development; however, since the range of DSL is confined to the familiar distance limit from a telephone company “central office”, it had very little effect on the options for those living outside of the town centers, the so-called “last mile” that has proved so problematic in other rural parts of the US and the world.
RBI will seek grants from corporations, nonprofit organizations, and private individuals to deploy a wireless broadband system in the region powered by the emerging 802.16a (WiMax) standard for which hardware is slated to become available in mid-2004 from Intel and other manufacturers. Deployed via towers connected to an Internet backhaul, WiMax is tremendously exciting because it has a range of nearly 30 miles from a single access point and speed as high at 70mbps. Although WiMax customers will initially require base stations or access points at their sites, products such as laptop PC cards that can accept WiMax signals are expected to come to market in early 2005.