Milo selectmen asked to think about broadband possibilities

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MILO — More than a year ago the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council (PCEDC) began to use $120,000 awarded from the Office of the Maine Attorney General for broadband internet planning by working with Axiom Technologies of Machias to conduct a survey across the region to help develop a regional technology plan intended to promote economic and community development.

At a Feb. 6 select meeting of the Milo selectmen, PCEDC Executive Director Chris Winstead said a year prior he met with the county commissioners and then the dozen-plus selectboards. “We worked our way to each of the communities asking if you would like to be part of a broadband initiative,” he said, saying town officials across the region were aware that broadband access is a challenge in the county.

Winstead said the PCEDC also met with area internet service providers and conducted surveys of more than 400 area residents and 100 businesses to develop some perspective solutions. The result is a regional technology plan as well as a digital inclusion and regional workforce plan — both of which are scheduled to be posted at in the future.

Each community in Piscataquis County has its own challenges and unique circumstances. Winstead said Milo does have the three-ring binder — made up of high-speed fiber for broadband — going through town, an advantage compared to some other communities. “The best way to put it is the federal government built us a highway but they did not build any off-ramps,” Winstead said about a still present challenge.

The regional technology plan specifies how Milo is served by both Spectrum and FairPoint Communications and others some recommendations for improving broadband. Winstead said Axiom Technologies would work with Spectrum to update the franchise agreement and potentially extend coverage to pockets of unserved areas beyond the company’s current footprint.

The recommendation listed for FairPoint is to discuss the possibility of getting on the firm’s construction list to upgrade eligible areas. He said Milo is in a stronger position with the two providers already in town,.

“We at the PCEDC are committed to helping you and finding the funding for that,” Winstead said. “We will shake the trees for grant funding.”

Winstead said the survey data also indicated that the region’s residents would like to be able to learn more about technology and various services and this formed the digital inclusion and regional workforce plan. “For employers there is a greater need for a higher level of training with our workforce,” Winstead said.

“Like anything it’s going to be custom fit for Milo and Dover and Guilford,” Selectman Peter Hamlin said. Hamlin said in Milo the solution may be extend broadband lines out on town roads to provide more households with access.

Another possibility mentioned may be to provide Wi-Fi access in the downtown area, such as through business sponsors for free durations of time during the year and/or for events such as the annual Black Fly Festival in the early summer. Another idea may be to provide Wi-Fi to the entire community, as is done in the town of Hermon.

Winstead said town officials may very well want to consider the business park and see what the present occupations have for needs and what may be needed to attract more establishments.

“They are not going to be living in those rural places without the technology,” Select Chair Lee McMannus said. “You may attract some other residents because they would enjoy it here but they can’t live here.”

Winstead said during the information gathering process he met a resident of the adjacent town of Medford who would telecommute with his healthcare job but he can’t due to the technology constraints. This Medford citizen said instead of spending on daily expenses to go to the Bangor area and back he would be able to reinvest this money in his family and community.

Town Manager Damien Pickel said he will plan to work with Winstead for assistance in discussions with the two providers on expanding access. “I think that’s what we need to do,” Pickel said.

The PCEDC executive director said there will be community information sessions on the regional technology plan, and one should have Attorney General Mills in attendance.

In other business, Pickel reported that no bids were received for the Derby Community Center which was posted with a minimum bid of $30,000.

“We tried, which we said we would,” McMannus said. “We can take that back down and see what we can do.”

Pickel said the facility is part of the Derby Shops property and there is potential for grant funds to be used to fix up the Derby Community Center.

Town officials are also working to finalize the warrant for the annual meeting on the evening of Monday, March 12 at the town hall and they tabled a decision on a few warrant articles. This approval likely will be granted during a special select meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 20.

One item of discussion was how much of fund balance would be used to reduce the tax burden and the figure of $100,000 was agreed upon to bring forward for the selectmen’s vote on the final draft of the warrant articles later in the month.

McMannus said “$100,000 sounds reasonable so you cover at least a mill.” He added, “$100,000 doesn’t put us in peril.” The select chair said the money from surplus is not necessarily needed for the 2018-19 fiscal year budget but bringing the money forward would be a nice gesture to taxpayers.

Pickel said New Balance donated 17 pairs of sneakers for the youth Hoops After School program at the town hall. He said the dollar value is about $870 and he will be sending New Balance a thank you letter.

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