APPLETON — Fed up Appleton folks spoke out about broadband at the city’s Select Board meeting Sept. 13, heaping criticism on provider Consolidated Communications Company, while a rival spokesman offered hope for the future.
Tidewater sales and marketing director Alan Hinsey said the Maine Connectivity Authority is preparing to award $150 million in grants, perhaps as much as $300 million, to help provide and improve Internet service to communities. Hinsey was invited to address the board by member Peter Beckett, who is also a member of the city’s broadband committee. Tidewater provides fiber optic Internet service to many homes in the city.
Appleton earlier this year set aside $66,000 to add to a grant Tidewater applied for for Appleton upgrades from the authority’s predecessor, ConnectMe. It was to provide service to households that were not yet linked. However, Tidewater’s application was denied, a first for the Maine-based company, Hinsey said.
That left the 44 Appleton homes that have yet to be upgraded to Tidewater’s fiber-optic Internet still without service or with often miserable service, according to those who addressed the meeting in person or via email. Initially, some households were not served due to the cost of reaching some areas. Those are the people Tidewater is seeking to connect through another round of funding, mostly federal.
But some customers of the other provider in town spoke in person and emailed the board about what they described as Consolidated Communications’ miserable internet, TV and phone service. One called their faulty service a matter of “life or death.”
The board discussion took place as the Appleton and Hope Broadband Committees prepared for a joint meeting on Thursday, September 22 at 5 p.m. at the Hope Town office, 441 Camden St.
After hearing broadband horror stories from the audience and reading four emails from disgruntled residents, board president Lorie Costigan suggested the city is caught in the middle and is being blamed for something it hasn’t got. control.
“I have to say as chair that I’m a little concerned that they seem to have thought that we voted something other than yes to support the grant last time, or that there seems to be an understanding … or a thought process that the Internet is something that we, the elected body, we regulate or offer”.
Calling the situation “a little complicated in my mind,” he took the opportunity to clear up what might be misconceptions among residents about the role of the Town of Appleton and its Select Board, particularly on the issue of Tidewater not receiving grant funds at the beginning of the year. year.
“People think it was a municipal decision,” Costigan said. “I want to make it clear that this board was not involved.”
And as if to drive home the point, then he came back later in the meeting on the same topic. “To reiterate,” Costigan said, “this board approved a grant application that Tidewater did earlier in the year and offered a portion of their (federal) ARPA funds to assist in that grant application and Tidewater did not receive that grant from ConnectMe. . So the only action of this board to date has been to approve a grant application…and that application was denied.”
He also highlighted the fact that the broadband industry has little or no oversight. “It’s a very important point,” he said. “The Internet is not considered a utility… there is no higher authority for accountability,”
And Costigan pressed Hinsey to publicly state the positive role Appleton played in how much Internet connection the city actually has. All but 44 houses have service, according to Hinsey.
Appleton, he replied, was “very supportive.”
He said Tidewater is ready to apply in the new round of grant funding when the guidelines are available. He expects the first round to start in October and said the money for the company’s long-awaited Appleton project would likely come from a $20 million federal funding pool designated for the kind of situation the 44 households are experiencing.
And there will be a new twist in the way things are done, he added: private companies will participate in what is called the “line extension” category of financing.
“It’s brand new,” Hinsey said. “We are going to request RFQs (Request for Quote) from any provider that wants to participate and can provide a line extension. Once they qualify, they come up with their proposals and it becomes a negotiated process. That has never been done before,” she said, adding that the new approach could result in cost savings.
Whatever the outcome, residents upset with Consolidated Communications were quick to say so, with some also launching criticism of a city committee’s proposal to spend federal Covid-related funds not on broadband relief but on a place to store funeral ashes in the cemetery while some residents are still struggling with internet problems.
Costigan read the email from resident Scott Redmond and three other emails to the board.
Redmond listed a litany of frustrating problems with her provider, which she said will only get worse once her children start using the Internet for school.
In his neighborhood, he said, “This has been an ongoing issue with Consolidated for the last 10 years or so,” adding, “Seeing as the rest of the community in Appleton has fiber internet access, it’s only fair to offer it to them. to all. plus.”
Bob Bocko agreed when he wrote of Internet access for all: “In my opinion, that has a much higher priority than the friendliness of a place to keep the ashes of loved ones in Pine Grove (Cemetery)… help to those who still lack access to high speed Internet should take priority, I would dare to say that it is a modern necessity of life.”
Beth Linscott’s email about broadband service read in part: “When did we start offering opportunities to only some residents but not others, depending on which end of town you live in or who’s in your path? What a shame.”
And from Susan White there was this plea: “My husband’s heart monitor requires DSL to register his pacemaker… So this is really a matter of life and death.”
His email continued: “We have to turn everything off just to watch TV. I can’t get music. I get kicked out of Zoom meetings, missed deadlines… it’s crazy and they (Consolidated) don’t really care. They have been stripping that company to the bone. I am beside myself.”
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