June 20, 2019
Business

Towns seek faster Net for residents Mount Desert signs deal

MOUNT DESERT – Seeking to address the frustrations of local residents who can’t seem to get an Internet connection faster than dial-up, town officials have inked a deal with a Rockland-based company to provide high-speed wireless Internet access to all parts of town.

Michael MacDonald, town manager of Mount Desert, said Tuesday that local selectmen signed the deal with RedZone Wireless on May 10. By contributing $75,000 in upfront capital costs, the town hopes that all of its residents – even those living down remote dirt roads – will have access to high-speed wireless Internet access in their homes by midsummer.

“These people pay taxes here,” MacDonald said, contrasting the rural parts of Mount Desert to the more densely developed villages of Northeast Harbor and Seal Harbor. “They ought to have as many services as everyone else.”

Cranberry Isles, a smaller town made up of five islands off Mount Desert Island, is trying to complete a similar deal with the same company, a Cranberry Isles selectman said Tuesday. The town of Hermon also is negotiating a townwide wireless contract with RedZone.

Dan Lief, chairman of the Cranberry Isles’ Board of Selectmen, said the offshore island town hopes to have a wireless signal available by this fall. For approximately $30,000, RedZone would transmit a high-speed signal from Southwest Harbor to the inhabited islands, where 12 relay radios – each about 2 feet high and a few inches wide – will be erected on existing structures to distribute the signal to receivers in nearby homes, he said.

“It’s plenty fast,” Lief said of the connection speed. “We’re going to work until we get 100 percent coverage.”

The wireless Internet contracts are aimed at addressing an issue that is becoming more of a sore point for many rural Maine residents: the lack of affordable high-speed Internet access.

In some places, residents cannot get broadband access because there aren’t enough people nearby for it to be cost-effective for other Internet service providers to extend their high-capacity wires into the neighborhood. These people have to settle for dial-up speeds across their phone lines even as people in more urban areas, some of whom may live just down the road, are finding more and more uses for the high-speed Internet access they have in their homes and offices.

The issue of broadband Internet access has even become a problem for some large-scale commercial users in Maine. Some business leaders have said the relative lack of affordable broadband access in Maine could pose a threat to the state’s economy.

The cost for a RedZone Internet account in Mount Desert and Cranberry Isles is expected to cost individual customers between $25 and $50 a month, depending on the level of service, officials said.

James McKenna, president of RedZone, said Tuesday that his company uses mesh network technology that already is in use in Boston; Vail, Colo.; Portland, Ore.; and other places. Most of Maine may not have the population density of these other cities, he said, but the technology is effective for village centers even in small towns.

The reason RedZone is making the technology available throughout entire Maine towns is because the towns are helping to pay some of the capital costs of equipment, he said. And the cost of making mesh network technology available is as much as 10 times cheaper than extending broadband communications lines to each home.

McKenna said that besides Cranberry Isles, Hermon and Mount Desert, RedZone is in discussions with about a half-dozen other municipalities in the midcoast and mid-Maine area. He declined to say which ones.

“It’s exciting,” he said “We want [to work with] communities that understand the value of ubiquitous, high-speed Internet access.”

The type of service being offered by RedZone is geared toward residential users and small businesses, McKenna said. Large-scale commercial broadband users likely would have to look elsewhere to improve their broadband capacities.

“This a model that works for a large part of Maine,” McKenna said. “It doesn’t get everywhere, but it does fix some of Maine’s problems.”


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