The irony in the stars

By Piscataquis County Commissioner Andrew Torbett

Here in Piscataquis County, there has been some controversy surrounding an internet availability study that was done by the Piscataquis County Economic Development Committee. This study, as first presented, was to find options of high-speed internet access for Piscataquis in order to attract businesses to our region, specifically online style businesses. When study was complete, the Commissioners received a tally of miles of wire that needed to be run, the amount of under-served homes in our County, and the portions of our region which were excluded from the study, with only one option available, broadband.

The Commissioners challenged the findings of the study and expressed frustration that there were not other options on the table. When Mr. (John) Shea of the PCEDC sent an email to all of the towns advising them that the County had committed 50 percent of our ARPA funds to the broadband project, which we had not, and requesting 100 percent of the towns funds, it became apparent to the Commissioners that Mr. Shea was not operating in good faith or the intentions of the County, which is to explore different options for effective high-speed internet in Piscataquis County. The Commissioners then voted not to fund the project.


The irony here is that technology has finally caught up with rural America, yes, even rural Maine. The age of wires is ending and the age of wireless is upon us. Even the broadband advocates had to grudgingly admit this when pressed by the Commissioners during our meetings.

So why is the PCEDC obsessed with only one option that is on the cusp of becoming obsolete, with a price tag ten times as much as alternative high-speed, excludes portions of Piscataquis, and is still five years out from even coming to fruition here? Right now, there is a grid of satellites right above us in the stars that can provide internet uninterrupted, unencumbered by topographical challenges, undeterred by weather, and at speeds that broadband could never replicate. There are options to tap into radio waves, which many in our remote areas along lake sides have utilized.

The Commissioners are disappointed that PCEDC continues to propagate the false narrative that broadband is the only option for high-speed internet in our County. This is simply not true. There are better options available right now.

Commissioner Jim White has put forward a proposal, with the support of Commissioner Wayne Erkkinen and myself, that will utilize the internet study done by PCEDC and paid for by the County. The proposal will offer a one time reimbursement of up to $300 to help with the start-up cost for alternate high-speed internet, for example Starlink or Redzone, in any of the homes in the under-served or excluded areas identified in the study. The County will post the map from the study delineating these areas.

This program will be available until Dec. 31, 2022. With the challenges and need for remote learning, remote doctor consultations, etc. the Commissioners feel this is the best option not only for those in under-served areas, but those that are excluded from the broadband project. This better serves the Commissioners goal to have high-speed internet for those who work from home and to meet the needs of those who are increasingly interacting and learning on the internet.

The County wants to make sure you know there are great options here, now. We can wait and get wrapped up in fiber and wires or you can reach for the stars. The future is now.

Torbett represents Piscataquis County District 2, which includes Atkinson TWP, Bowerbank, Dover-Foxcroft, Medford, Orneville Twp, and Sebec.

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