Arrowsic internet improvement project delayed by USDA

ARROWSIC — Arrowsic residents plagued by slow internet connections may not have relief as soon as town officials had hoped.

The Arrowsic Broadband Authority, formed to oversee the introduction of high-speed broadband to town, said slow action by the United States Department of Agriculture means the upgrades might not come before the end of 2021.

The inaugural virtual meeting of the Arrowsic Broadband Authority last week was riddled with connection issues, and the irony wasn’t lost on the group’s members.

In January, Arrowsic received a $1.2 million investment from the USDA to fund high-speed internet for all Arrowsic customers — 237 households, 20 businesses and four farms.

The town’s next step is to contract with an internet service provider and hire an engineer to install the equipment that will bring the service to residents, according to Will Neilson, a member of the select board and the Arrowsic Broadband Authority.

“That sounds relatively straightforward, but there are bureaucratic hurdles,” he said. “We’re stuck in a bureaucratic purgatory.”

Neilson said Arrowsic is waiting for the USDA to sign off on the edited contract between the town and the USDA, which will give Arrowsic funding to start the process.

“The USDA simply hasn’t managed to make the changes on paper they’ve agreed to,” he said. “The problem is we have no money allocated or available to do things while the USDA is enjoying its bureaucratic slumbers.”

This delay comes at a time when fast, reliable internet has taken on an increasingly important role in rural communities in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Sukey Heard, a member of the broadband authority.

“Everyone is using the internet for everything now, and the pandemic has really brought to the forefront how important reliable internet is for people to communicate with others,” said Heard. “Our internet is so bad sometimes we cannot complete online meetings, but we have kids who are home trying to do their schoolwork and elderly people who aren’t able to connect their doctors.”

Roughly 88% of Mainers have access to broadband internet, according to the Federal Communications Commission. However, ConnectMaine estimates as many as 50% of Maine’s roadways, particularly in rural areas, are considered unserved or underserved by high-speed broadband.

Neilson said Arrowsic currently uses digital subscriber line (DSL) internet, which is transmitted through copper wire and becomes weaker depending on where you live on the island.

“DSL is like a garden hose,” he said. “If you only have one outlet for it, you have decent pressure, but if you’re running sprinklers off it, each successive outlet drops the water pressure more.”

He gave the example of Bald Head Road, which is one long road that runs to the southernmost point of the island. The houses at the beginning of the road have decent internet, but the connection gets progressively worse for the houses further down the road.

“On Bald Head Road, we have a geologist and an architect who have to rent space in town because they have enormous data files they have to download,” said Neilson. “That’s their livelihood. Unreliable internet makes a difference not only as an inconvenience, but also to the economic wellbeing of residents.”

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