After years of buffering, Georgetown is on the cusp of fast internet

Workers have laid part of Georgetown Broadband’s first fiber optic cable. Current work is limited to only about 1/3 of the island, but could reach all of Georgetown sometime this fall, according to company management. Contributed / Terry Taylor

When COVID-19 forced millions of Americans into their homes in 2020, many city dwellers smoothly transitioned to a life of remote work and schooling.

For the 80,000 Maine households with inadequate Internet access, the shift was not so easy.

On March 24, a group of Georgetown residents achieved their long-sought goal of bringing high-speed internet or broadband to their communities when contractors began installing fiber optic cables on the north side of the island.

“We are very, very, very excited,” said Carlos Barrionuevo, one of the three members of Georgetown Broadband’s management. “It’s been a long road to get here.”

Georgetown Broadband, a company founded by 10 Georgetown investors in December 2020, hopes to begin offering affordable broadband to some residents by this summer, said Barrionuevo, who has been working to bring broadband to the city since 2015. More than 400 of the potential 1,035 households have already signed up for the service, which the company hopes will be spread across the island sometime this fall.

The project timeline will depend on the completion of the “make-ready” process, which will require Central Maine Power and Consolidated Communications to prepare existing telephone polls for fiber optic cable installation, Barrionuevo said.

The group’s founders have invested $2.5 million in the project, which they say will improve Georgetown’s educational, economic and health outcomes.

“Nowadays everyone needs broadband,” said Terry Taylor, one of the other members of the company. “Somehow it’s very intrinsic to our daily lives.”

Taylor, like others on the island, accesses the Internet through “digital subscriber line,” which uses copper wire. Georgetown residents living near the center of town can access download speeds of 25 megabits per second and upload speeds of 3 megabits per second, which is the minimum standard for broadband, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Even that standard, which experts say is no longer adequate, is well out of reach for Taylor and many others on the island, he said.

At Taylor’s home, which has access to download speeds as low as 7 megabits per second or less, news articles take 20 or 30 seconds to load and video streaming is often impossible, he said. A simple computer update can turn into a marathon process.

“My computer will tell me I have 1 1/2 days (before my update is complete),” Taylor said. “Eventually I’m moving my computer to another location with better service so I can do it in 20 minutes, just like the rest of the world.”

Fiber optic cable, made of glass tubes the width of a human hair, can transmit information at much faster speeds, said Andrew Butcher, president of the newly formed Maine Connectivity Authority.

Georgetown Broadband offers download and upload speeds of up to 100 megabits per second for individuals, or 200 megabits per second for businesses, according to the website.

Other Midcoast communities, including Arrowsic, Harpswell and West Bath, have established task forces focused on improving broadband access.

Butcher, whose organization is preparing to allocate hundreds of millions of dollars to support broadband infrastructure in Maine, said improving speeds and access could improve the lives of professionals using video conferencing technology, the elderly who rely on telehealth visits and children who need remote access. go to school .

“We need to build infrastructure for where our needs are now and where our needs will be tomorrow,” he said. “We cannot afford to leave people in the dark.”


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