On Tuesday, Jan. 23, Tidewater Telecom Inc. installed the last segment of fiber-optic cable along Crabapple Drive in Bremen, officially bringing broadband availability to all mainland addresses within the town.
According to Henry Goldberg, chair of the Bremen Broadband Committee, the placement of the broadband infrastructure in the town went smoothly, except for Crabapple Drive, which took two years of planning and logistics work to install.
“Everything else fell into place pretty easily and working with people was easy too,” Goldberg said. “Getting the last bit installed on Crabapple involved switching from underground conduit to poles.”
The final installation on Crabapple Drive was the last piece to a project that began back in 2019, when the Bremen Broadband Committee was formed.
“The goal was to get broadband into people’s lives,” said Ernie Carroll, another member of the Bremen Broadband Committee.
Carroll commended Deb Elliot, a resident of Crabapple Drive and an officer of the homeowners association who got the residents along the drive to agree to give Tidewater the easements necessary to set poles on their property, which was crucial to the completion of the project.
Before the committee started its work with Tidewater Telecom, who installed the fiber-optic cables, nearly 0% of the town had access to broadband Carroll said.
“Tidewater really stepped up,” Goldberg said.
Between state and federal funds, and the work of Tidewater Telecom, they were able to install the network with zero impact to the taxpayers of the town, according to Goldberg.
The committee successfully applied for an infrastructure grant from ConnectME a state organization promoting high-speed internet infrastructure to be built in Maine, for the sum of $120,000.
The grant funded nearly 20% of the cost to build the infrastructure and Tidewater Telecom, the Nobleboro-based internet provider, a partner in the project, absorbed the remaining cost of building the infrastructure.
Additionally, with help from the Bremen Select Board and available American Rescue Plan Act funds, the town was able to subsidize the cost of an internet subscription for those financially qualifying households.
“Our goal was first access, and then affordability,” Goldberg said. “There’s no sense in having (broadband) if people can’t use it.”
For instance, two years ago, before any cables were strung or dug, free public Wi-Fi was installed at the Bremen fire station, so that residents had somewhere to get internet.
According to Goldberg, when broadband committee members approached the select board about securing funds for a Bremen internet subsidy program, the select board gave them more than they were expecting.
With residual American Rescue Plan Act funds, the select board members were able to put together a $25,000 subsidy program, the Bremen Broadband Benefit Program, with slightly different criteria and permanence than its federal counterpart, the Affordable Connectivity Program.
The Affordable Connectivity program is a Federal Communications Commission benefit program helping to ensure households can afford the broadband they need for work, school, and more
According to the Federal Communications Commission website, the Affordable Connectivity Program benefit provides a discount of up to $30 per month toward internet service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal lands. Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price.
“The ACP program has been criticized and may not survive,” Goldberg said. “The Bremen program assures that the subsidy will available; since the town and National Digital Equity Center control the fund, we have much more flexibility in determining priorities for the subsidy (e.g., households with school-age children, disabled veterans, etc.) whereas ACP is one-size-fits all.”
According to Goldberg, Tidewater has agreed to make the base cost of internet service $30, so households financially qualifying for the Bremen or federal subsidy programs can get internet at no cost to them.
The reason for the push for broadband, according to both Carroll and Goldberg, was that it provides an opportunity for residents of Bremen to have access to modern internet speeds, which is important in an era where online business and education is becoming more common.
“It’s fast, and before, Bremen residents were using satellites to try and get high-speed internet, and there is always delay on that because most of Bremen is heavily wooded,” Goldberg said. “Having broadband access will change people’s lives.”
The next step for Bremen Broadband Committee members is to try and get an equipment program going so that the town can provide technology, such as laptops, to access the internet.
“We’re trying to get hardware into people’s hands,” Carroll said.
The committee received a Spirit of America Award for its excellence in community service in November 2021.
Carroll said that everyone on the committee contributed meaningfully during the process. For a town with about 800 residents, he said, there are a lot of people who are active in the community.
“They do a heck of a job,” Carroll said.