What is all the ruckus about Broadband? You might be hearing from neighbors and friends about hi-speed internet and the new Katahdin Region Broadband Utility in Medway, East Millinocket and Millinocket. Late last fall the three towns agreed to enter into joint agreement to form the Utility, a private non-profit organization to facilitate broadband expansion and increase economic opportunities.
The Board of Directors, made up of two appointees from each town, has been meeting since December getting “up to speed” on broadband basics. Here is what they’re learning:
Broadband infrastructure is an essential investment to revitalize rural economies. In community conversations, remote workers have expressed a need for at least 5mpbs upload speeds in order to retain their jobs that depend on a reliable and hi-speed connection. That speed is not readily available throughout the community. A handful of businesses have paid to install fiber internet to their building. Doing this is cost prohibitive for small businesses, and remote workers.
The definition of broadband internet changes over time as the capacity of the network and data needs increase. In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) updated the definition to 25 mbps (megabits per second) download and 3 mbps upload.
Most of the internet available in our region is delivered over copper cables. With new technology upgrades, copper-based networks can deliver 1gig speeds. They use electromagnetic waves to transmit data, which weaken as the distance from the operating hub increases. New networks are being built with fiber optic cable, which use hair thin glass (or plastic) cables to transmit data via light waves. Each strand can transmit data through different wavelengths of light, meaning there are as many dedicated ways of moving data as colors of light. Woah!
High-speed fiber is becoming more and more essential to everyday functioning. It supports the fourth industrial revolution in the information age. It is the number 2 issue people look for when considering moving to a new community, second only to safe streets (RVA LLC 2017). 57% of Millenials age 18-39 and 24% of Gen X age 40-54 use just broadband internet and do not have cable TV (Simmons National Consumer Study, 2017). It’s changing the look and feel of the workforce. Automation continues to increase. By 2027, the majority of workers will be freelance or remote workers rather than place-based workers (Upwork, 2018).
An open access network can increase the number of internet service providers, increase competition and reduce costs for consumers. It can also increase the types of services available, such as telemedicine, distance learning, remote access to resources, aging in place, more efficient public safety, education, jobs and economic development. Increased capacity through an open access broadband network is an essential component to diversifying the local economy.