News Feature

Penobscot
Originally published in Castine Patriot, October 25, 2018
Survey finds support for better internet in Penobscot

by Monique Labbe

Axiom Technologies president Mark Ouellette, along with Joel Katz and Phil Rapp led a discussion about bringing better access to broadband internet to the town of Penobscot during a session held at the Penobscot Town Office on October 23.

The town received a grant from the Island Institute, which was matched by the town, to conduct a survey about service in the community earlier this year.

Ouellette has been working with the broadband committee to develop options for service, funding and grant options to pay for the work needed to get those services to town and what the most cost effective measures would be for the best possible service.

Some areas in town have better service than others, said Ouellette, noting that the school already has fiber optics. For students going home at night looking to complete their assignments outside of school, though, it becomes more challenging depending on where in town the family lives.

“We know that this is a problem, because some students can’t even do their homework at home because their service is so bad,” said Katz. “Some kids are stuck having to stay after school to do their homework in the library.”

Ouellette said the most important thing to do right now is get a sense of what the overall service needs are for people in the community, which is what the survey has helped with. So far, the survey has elicited about 100 responses. Both Ouellette and Katz said they think they can get another 30 or 40 responses by keeping it open longer, so they have made the decision to keep it open through election day, November 6.

Ouellette said one of the key take aways from the responses he has seen thus far is that of 98 responses to the question of whether taxpayers would be willing for some of their money to go toward creating the infrastructure for better broadband service, only three people responded “no.”

“I have done a lot of these types of surveys, and I’ve never seen an overwhelming response like that,” said Ouellette.

Ouellette said he also noticed that a fair amount of responses came from younger families with school aged children, who are unable to do their work, both school and professionally, at home due to the lack of service.

“That’s crazy,” he said. “We have a very high number of people in this town who telecommute for work, and it is difficult for them to do that when the service is sub par.”

Katz noted that the next steps through the winter will be to develop a plan on paper, detailing the most efficient service and funding mechanism, to take to the town meeting in the spring.

“If you aren’t moving forward, you’re falling behind,” added Ouellette. “So many other towns in rural Maine are in the same boat and are applying for grants just like Penobscot would be. We need to make sure we’re being efficient, and that we’re in the best place to get the most adequate funding we can.”