DOVER-FOXCROFT — Piscataquis residents in rural areas who don’t have the internet could soon be hooked up under a new county program. A rebate would reimburse up to 50% of the cost of purchasing internet hardware, such as modems and routers, not exceeding $300, said James White, chairman of the Piscataquis County Commissioners, who proposed the program during of a meeting on Tuesday.
DOVER-FOXCROFT — Piscataquis residents in rural areas who don’t have the internet could soon be hooked up under a new county program.
A rebate would reimburse up to 50% of the cost of purchasing internet hardware, such as modems and routers, not exceeding $300, said James White, chairman of the Piscataquis County Commissioners, who proposed the program during of a meeting on Tuesday.
Commissioners capped the program at $150,000 for the year, with plans to revisit it if many residents want to participate. They did not specify where the funding would come from. If the funds are not spent by the end of 2022, the program will end on Jan. 1, 2023, White said.
After months of discussing uneven internet access in parts of Piscataquis County and how to fix the problem, the commissioners came up with their own solution. This comes after the Piscataquis County Economic Development Board launched a $60,000 Broadband Planning Report who identified gaps across the county and how to fill them. The study estimated that it would cost between $22 million and $27 million to extend Internet coverage to unserved areas. The commissioners have repeatedly said the study was misleading because it only offered a fiber option, was expensive, and would take years to implement.
The study suggested more than 700 miles of fiber and offered no alternatives, White said, calling it appalling and dishonest at Tuesday’s meeting. He would have liked the study to present other options, such as Internet services by satellite or by radio frequency.
Those interested in the county program must be full-time residents to qualify, White said. They can’t live in a place like downtown Dover-Foxcroft, for example, where high-speed internet is already available, he said. Instead, the program is for someone who lives in a place like Beaver Cove, which has a paved road.
Depending on the service, there are likely some upfront costs that residents would have to manage on their own.
“The idea of my proposal is that it is relatively immediate,” he said. “It can take a month or two to wait for the material to show up, or even six months. If someone lives 50 miles up the road and there are only two houses, they are not excluded.
“They don’t have to wait years for fiber to work if their child is out of school because of something like what happened with the COVID situation.”
White clarified that the program is not intended to promote Starlink, which Commissioner Andrew Torbett mentioned in a recent Piscataquis Observer article as an option for residents living in underserved areas.
“What we’re not doing is spending $26 million to [any internet]The company can go out and rake in millions of dollars from cities and then rake in other federal grants so they can use outdated fiber optics,” White said.
Sean Hadley, who lost a seat on the Dover-Foxcroft Select Board in November 2021 but is running again, said the scheme could help ease concerns of residents worried about upfront internet costs.
Tom Goulette, who sits on the executive committee of the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council, said the program currently excludes those who already have fiber close to home.
Chris Maas, a Dover-Foxcroft resident and PCEDC board member, said he and others were working with the ConnectMaine Authority on broadband efforts. He is concerned about the roughly 660 homes mentioned in the broadband planning study that are considered off-grid and would not be served, he said.
Those involved in the effort sent letters to 30 towns, some outside Piscataquis County, to meet on May 3 and discuss Internet expansion. Maas encouraged commissioners to attend and be part of the conversation.
“We are pretty sure that [running fiber] can be done without any cost to the cities either in taxes or bonding,” he said. “There will be a lot of places where people who are part of this coalition can take a look and decide whether they want to continue or not.”
Residents interested in the rebate program should purchase their internet equipment and bring a receipt to the commissioners office for reimbursement, White said. Broadband Planning Study will be available on Piscataquis County website for people to see if their residence falls into unserved areas, he said.