Augusta — The Maine state government's ConnectME Authority has awarded two grants for development of broadband (high-speed) internet services in the Maine Highlands region. The two grants have been awarded to Cornerstone Communications, a provider of broadband (high-speed) internet services in eastern and central Maine.
One grant will provide $369,156 in matching funds to assist Cornerstone's Maine Highlands Rural Broadband Project, which will develop broadband service in 23 towns and unorganized territories in southern Piscataquis and western Penobscot County. The grant application was developed by Cornerstone with the assistance of the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council (PCEDC).
The proposed areas to be served by the Maine Highlands project are: Abbot, Atkinson, Barnard Township, Bowerbank, Bradford, Brownville, Charleston, Corinth, Dexter, Dover-Foxcroft, Elliottsville Township, Guilford, Hudson, Lagrange, Lake View Plantation, Milo, Orneville Township, Parkman, Sangerville, Sebec, T5 R9 NWP, Williamsburg Township, and Willimantic.
The second grant is awarded to the Town of Monson in partnership with Cornerstone. It will provide $62,400 in matching funds for development of broadband services in Monson and in Blanchard Township.
The ConnectME Authority is a new agency of Maine state government created to promote broadband services in rural parts of the state. It administers a fund created by the legislature for that purpose, and is financed by a small surcharge on Maine customers' phone bills.
The ConnectME Authority reviewed 17 grant applications for the $675,000 available for award in this first year of the program. The Authority scored all applications on a set of predetermined criteria, and awarded grants to the six top-scoring applicants. Besides the two Cornerstone applications, other applicants received grants to serve the Town of Somerville, the Town of Edgecomb, Chebeague Island, and the Columbia Falls area.
In evaluating the applications, the Authority board noted that, in addition to presenting a "good focused plan for rural areas," the two Cornerstone applications scored well on local community involvement. Board members in particular noted what one called a "good partnership" with the PCEDC, which demonstrated "substantial local support" for the Maine Highlands project, and one member commented on the good in-kind contribution to be made by the Town of Monson in support of their separate application.
Andrew Hinkley, general manager of Cornerstone, said that the key to the awards was local participation. "This project would not have been funded without the efforts of Sheila Grant and Thomas Kittredge of the PCEDC, who brought together plenty of evidence that the Maine Highlands citizens were behind this project," Hinkley said.
"Likewise, the support of the Monson selectmen and Town Manager Julie Anderson, especially their willingness to make town facilities available where they can be used to make the broadband service work, was persuasive to the ConnectME Authority board."
Both the Maine Highlands plan and the separate Monson project make use of a combination of technologies.
Under the plan, the majority of customers would be served with high-speed DSL service over telephone lines, from equipment Cornerstone will install alongside Verizon's pole-mounted "remote terminal" cabinets used to bring telephone service to many rural areas in the Maine Highlands region.
At the same time, Cornerstone will install high-capacity digital radio systems, which will bring wireless broadband internet access to a large number of homes that cannot be served by DSL.
Cornerstone was the only ConnectME grant applicant proposing this "multi-modal" approach to service delivery in Maine's rural areas – a fact that the ConnectME Authority board noted favorably in approving the two applications. The "overlay" of area coverage by the two technologies will greatly increase the number of homes that can be reached by some form of broadband internet service.
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