To the leaders of Maine’s Congressional Delegation:
With the recent Senate approval of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the House’s ongoing debate of the aforementioned legislation we, the team at Outer Reach Broadband, are reaching out to applaud your efforts and encourage reasonable, actionable short-term solutions to supplement the long-term fix currently being debated. In short, with potentially $300 million in broadband infrastructure investment targeted for Maine in the Senate version of IIJA, in addition to the +$120 million already targeted for Maine in the American Rescue Plan, the ability for all Mainers to have fast, reliable internet access will be materially changed in the coming years. This is exciting and we enthusiastically support such a worthy governmental program.
While this creates a path to bridging Maine’s digital divide it is important to be realistic with our expectations for the implementation of this incredibly large-scale series of public works projects. When considering how long it will be before the outer reaches of Maine will be connected it is crucial to remember that the bureaucracy of federal, state and local governments, in addition to the inherent bureaucracy of the telephone pole owners, will slow the deployment of these investment dollars. Unfortunately, we’re already seeing this play out in some of our communities where state and federal funds were allocated over two years ago and there has yet to be a single strand of fiber hung or buried.
This “paperwork process,” combined with the supply/demand imbalance between supply of qualified construction companies versus the forecasted demand for fiber installation across Maine, will mean that it will be YEARS before many communities even begin construction on their new fiber optic networks.
Furthermore, let’s not forget the legacy of moved goalposts and missed targets in the National Broadband Plan from 2010. Considering our shared history of the intervening eleven years we are hopeful that IIJA won’t meet the same fate.
So, while we congratulate your efforts to provide a long-term solution for Maine’s digital divide we believe the solution is most likely years away for most Mainers. This begs the question: how can we work together to shorten this timing gap and actually bridge the digital divide in the short term?
We believe that in many cases it would be best to use fixed wireless technology to create wireless networks to deliver higher speed and more reliable connectivity to rural homes as a short to mid-term solution. The process is actually somewhat simple – radios are attached to “cell towers” and corresponding receivers are attached to nearby homes to deliver an internet connection between the tower and the home. This can be an incredibly effective solution for multiple reasons –
- Quick to Launch: Fixed wireless networks are much faster to deploy than fiber and can be deployed at a fraction of the cost of a fiber network as well. Assuming the existence of a telecommunications tower, a fixed wireless network provider can be fully operational from that tower in two to three months. That is months faster than the pole make-ready process necessary for a fiber network!
- More Affordable: Fixed wireless networks are much more affordable than fiber networks as they do not include miles of construction (including labor and equipment costs) or pole make-ready costs. The primary expenses are the cost of the tower equipment, fiber internet backhaul at the tower and a lease for space on the tower.
- Savings Passed Along to Consumers: The cost of a fixed wireless network is a fraction of the price of a fiber network, therefore, providers are able to offer subscription plans at much more affordable prices. This is key for rural Mainers, who have a significantly lower median income than the more densely populated areas of the state. In addition, only 1.5% of Mainers have access to affordable 100 Mbps internet service plans.
- Faster Internet Speeds: Lastly, with the new generation of radios download speeds of +/- 100 Mbps have become common. The truth is that fixed wireless can be a HUGE upgrade over the outdated DSL and satellite technologies upon which rural communities have come to rely.
Like yourselves and many in our State, Outer Reach’s goal is to help bring connectivity to communities in need and we want to make certain that common sense short-term solutions are not lost in the excitement of and planning for the longer term solution. If no short-term solution is pursued, it will be years before rural Mainers who are struggling to secure reliable connectivity will realize satisfaction. This is why we are reaching out to you to start the discussion and make sure you know that it’s possible to do so with both short term (fixed wireless) and long term (fiber broadband) strategies working cohesively for connectivity. We welcome the opportunity to walk you through some of our solutions and discuss the matter further.
Thank you for the work you are doing for our State and we hope to help you bridge Maine’s digital divide.
President, Outer Reach Broadband