Thank you to the Franklin Journal for covering the success of our Broadband Initiative!

Bringing Fast Fiber Internet to Franklin County Maine

Franklin County to have 98% broadband coverage by summer

WILTON — Seven years ago, the Franklin County Broadband Initiative began working to raise awareness on the gaps in internet service and the importance of broadband internet in the modern age.

Spearheaded by Charlie Woodworth of Greater Franklin Development Council, the initiative brought the council together with Opportunity Center of North Franklin County, the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments and the Rangeley Economic Opportunity Committee to identify and improve broadband services in Franklin County.

At the Wilton Select Board meeting on Tuesday, March 5, Woodworth told the Select Board the goals of the initiative were coming to fruition and approximately 98% of Franklin County will have access to broadband and fiber optic internet services in some form by mid-summer.

“Thank you very much for continuing to be engaged and being an active partner with our providers,” Woodworth told the Select Board.

Recently, Wilton closed a deal with Consolidated Communications Inc. [CCI], which would allow the company to take over the grant from the Maine Connectivity Authority [MCA] from Matrix Design Group after Matrix failed to bring in a 50% market share for the proposed fiber optic infrastructure project.

“With this new agreement, 100% of the residents of Wilton will have access to a new fiber optic network that CCI is deploying,” Brian Lippold of Casco Bay Advisors told the Select Board at their meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 6. With the grant from MCA, CCI will build the Fidium Fiber network in the town of Wilton.

CCI announced it would be building the Fidium Fiber network in Wilton as well as Livermore, Livermore Falls, Chesterville, Dixfield, Fayette and Jay regions around the new year. CCI estimates more than 6,800 homes and businesses serviced by the network.

Talks of expanding broadband services in Franklin County began in 2017, with the Franklin County Broadband Initiative forming to raise awareness about the role broadband plays in educational and economic development of communities.

Utilizing state funds and an additional $43,000 raised by local municipalities, the group began a six-month comprehensive review of current broadband access across all 22 Franklin County towns, as well as Livermore Falls in Androscoggin County.

“We had great turnout and very broad representation from educators, businesses, students and parents saying, ‘We don’t have internet, our children’s homework assignments are online and I’ve got to drive in town and park outside the library to collect the Wi-Fi while my son or daughter does their homework in the cab of the truck,’” Woodworth told the Morning Sentinel in 2017. “We got to hear what current conditions are like, and it became very apparent what needs to happen.”

Since then, various organization across the county have taken advantage of multiple grant programs that came in the wake of the pandemic, which Woodworth told the Sun Journal in 2021 exposed a lot of the glaring problems that were presented due to the lack of broadband services.

Woodworth stated that 30% of students in the RSU 9 school district couldn’t do their homework from home due to lack of service.

“Thirty percent — that’s unacceptable,” he said. “The pandemic is shining a very bright light on these needs, just magnifying everything we were talking about prior to the pandemic. It all was there, but now it’s much more difficult to ignore.”

In the northern parts of the county, TDS Telecommunications LLC announced it would begin building out high-speed, all-fiber internet network in May of 2023, with the towns of Weld, Carrabassett Valley, Stratton, Mercer, Norridgewock, Kingfield, New Portland, New Vineyard, North Anson, Phillips, Salem and Strong gaining access to that network.

TDS estimates its service would reach approximately 7,400 homes and businesses in those areas. This combined with CCI’s estimate of 6,800 homes and businesses with the Fidium Fiber network would put coverage in the region at roughly 98%, according to Woodworth.

At the meeting on Tuesday, March 5, Woodworth said the next step is to invest in digital skills training. He stated he would be looking into getting funds for the adult education programs in RSU 9 and RSU 73 to hire more instructors to engage with other parts of the county.

Town Manager Maria Greeley asked Woodworth if there was an emphasis on stay-at-home parents gaining employment online. Woodworth stated it would be the by-product of the continued investment of broadband services.

“Right now, Wilton is going to have the technology that allows [a stay-at-home parent] to fully participate in the 21st century with symmetrical speeds,” Woodworth stated. “So people working from home, that’s gonna be a byproduct. That’s a wonderful thing.”

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