Tag Archive for: broadband

China broadband group looks into expanded access

by Mary Grow

The China Broadband Committee (CBC) will meet at 5 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7, in the portable building behind the China town office to talk about next steps to expand internet access, after being denied a Maine Connectivity Authority (MCA) grant.

CBC members have been working with the Maine subsidiary of Idaho-based Direct Communications, the former Unitel in Unity. After the MCA’s grant committee met at the end of November, Jayne Sullivan, of Direct Communications notified CBC chairman Robert O’Connor that China’s application had scored high, but not high enough to get funds.

Sullivan surmised the rejection might have been because “there is too much area in the town that did not qualify for funding,” that is, area that, by state definitions, is already adequately served.

The purpose of the Dec. 7 meeting is to consider next steps as Sullivan and China committee members continue to work toward expanded internet access throughout the town. Sullivan mentioned remaining state funds as one possibility.

China’s 2022 application for funding was rejected at the beginning of 2023. Since then, however, mapping of service areas has been improved and MCA has amended parts of its grant program, leading to a new submission in September 2023.

Sullivan said that an application from the Waldo Broadband Corporation had received a favorable recommendation and will be presented for funding at the Dec. 12 MCA board meeting. WBC consists of the towns of Freedom, Liberty, Montville, Palermo and Searsmont; they, too are working with Direct Communications.

Read past coverage of Broadband initiatives in China here.

China broadband committee set to present request to select board

by Mary Grow

China Broadband Committee (CBC) members held a short meeting Aug. 10, primarily to approve a request to select board members before that board’s Aug. 14 meeting.

CBC members’ focus is on applying for a state grant through the Maine Connectivity Authority (MCA) to extend and improve internet service to China residents. They are working through Direct Communications, an Idaho-based company that promotes rural broadband, and its local subsidiary, Unitel, of Unity, Maine.

The second round of applications is due in September. Having not been awarded funds in the previous round, CBC members hope to do better this time.

CBC chairman Robert O’Connor had drafted a letter supporting the application for select board members to sign. Committee members unanimously approved it. He also intended to ask people who signed supporting letters for the first application in the fall of 2022 to re-sign and re-date them.

O’Connor said Direct Communications will be the grant applicant, with China a proposed recipient. MCA procedures have changed, and the maps that supposedly show what areas need better service – or any service at all – have been made more detailed, he said.

Another CBC meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 17, in the portable building in the town office complex, to continue grant application planning.

OPINIONS: Internet access for many may be at risk


by Kim Lindlof
President, CEO Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce

In response to our nation’s increased reliance on high-speed Internet, both the Trump and Biden Administrations have taken important steps to provide connectivity to those that need it, particularly in rural areas. An invaluable program that’s been created in recent years to enable this is the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which over 18 million American households are currently enrolled in. The ACP enables eligible Americans to overcome the obstacle of affordability by providing a monthly voucher which can be used on the cost of an Internet subscription. When combined with the low-income offerings made available by many of the nation’s leading providers that participate in the program, the voucher can make the cost of a subscription free for qualifying low-income families. Here in Maine, over 82,000 households are enrolled in the ACP, while another 150,000 are eligible to enroll.

Unfortunately, the ACP faces an existential threat that could eliminate Internet access for the over 18 million American households that rely on the program – its funding will run out sometime in 2024. Extending its funding to ensure that the program continues to exist should be an urgent priority for lawmakers regardless of partisanship.

A CNBC poll earlier this year found that the significant majority of Republicans and Independents support the program, and its expiration would be a blow to constituencies of both parties, as data from the Technology Policy Institute reflects that enrollment is essentially equivalent for both Republican-represented and Democratic-represented Congressional districts.

Politics aside, an end to the ACP would set us back years in our effort to overcome the affordability gap, a barrier that accounts for two-thirds of our nation’s digital divide. By not having an effective solution in place to assist Americans struggling to afford an Internet subscription due to level of income, we will more or less be fighting this fight with one arm tied behind our back.  In Maine, 39 percent of households with income less than $20,000 have no connectivity. Closing the digital divide is an effort that we must be successful in, as analyses of the issue have indicated that allowing millions of Americans to continue to be without connectivity will have grave repercussions for the American economy at large. A 2021 study from Deloitte found that a ten percentage-point increase in broadband penetration in 2016 would have created more than 806,000 additional jobs in 2019.

The persistence of the digital divide will continue to mean untapped prosperity for the American economy, and it’s not hard to understand why. Seemingly every industry stands to benefit by having access to high-speed Internet and all of the essential resources that come with it. This means not only capabilities for remote working, but also access to information, so those working in sectors that are more hands-on and less computer-intensive can still utilize the Internet to yield better results. An example of this could be a farmer in Clinton that relies on online resources for market prices, weather forecasts, farming techniques, and agricultural research, or a small business owner in Waterville that utilizes online platforms to advertise its product and grow its brand.

Overall, I am hopeful that federal policymakers understand that combatting affordability barriers is an integral part of getting Americans online, but I also hope that this understanding will translate into tangible action that specifically acknowledges the need to prolong the Affordable Connectivity Program. With the program set to expire next year, we need to find a funding solution in the near future that keeps this critical program intact.

China broadband committee to try again for grant

by Mary Grow

China Broadband Committee (CBC) members will try again to get a grant to expand broadband service to China residents who are currently underserved or not served at all.

They will again work in partnership with Direct Communications, the Idaho-based company that now owns UniTel, in Unity, with assistance from Mission Broadband, the consultants who have worked with them for several years.

These decisions were the outcome of a March 9 meeting among the parties, the first CBC meeting since last fall, when the first and unsuccessful application was put in final form.

The grants are awarded by the Maine Connectivity Authority (MCA). A letter from the MCA rejecting China’s first application (see the Jan. 12 issue of The Town Line, p. 1) said there had been many more applications than available funds could support.

At the March 9 meeting, John Doherty and Jeff Nevins, from Mission Broadband, and Jayne Sullivan, from Unitel/Direct Communications, discussed two issues that will affect the next round of grants: mapping and revisions to MCA’s grant program.

Mapping involves the accuracy – or inaccuracy – of maps purporting to show where improved service is needed. Doherty said that the first maps were by census block; if one home in a block had excellent internet service, the map showed all the neighbors equally well served.

New maps are being prepared by individual addresses. They are expected to be available by June.

The definition of adequate service is also debated, in terms of capacity, speed and reliability.

Sullivan expects MCA’s application form will be revised. She hopes the updated forms will be available by June; the application deadline is currently some so-far-unspecified time in August (which, Doherty pointed out, is a month when people are likely to be on vacation).

Bob O’Connor

Unitel/Direct prepared China’s previous application; CBC members authorized them to prepare a new one, at least in outline pending more information from MCA. Sullivan said the goal is “a winnable application.”

CBC chairman Robert O’Connor had drafted a document that he intended as part of a new application. Sullivan accepted it as useful local input for MCA reviewers; she and O’Connor will continue discussion by email as necessary.

The expectation is that MCA will still require a local funding match, toward which China voters have approved Tax Increment Financing funds.

The next CBC meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. Thursday, April 27.





China Four Seasons Club, Thurston Park to split TIF money 60/40

by Mary Grow

Five members of China’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Committee met Feb. 8 and reviewed most of the requests for TIF funds for the 2023-24 fiscal year that begins July 1.

China’s TIF money comes from taxes Central Maine Power Company pays on its north-south transmission line through the town. By state law, TIF expenditures are to focus on promoting economic development. On the town website, china.govoffice.com, under the TIF Committee, the Second Amended TIF Program approved in 2021 lays out details of permissible expenditures.

Committee chairman Brent Chesley, who is also a member of the China select board, said he intended to participate in discussions, but would not vote, because the TIF Committee reports to the select board and he votes there. “One man, one vote,” he summarized.

A major topic at the Feb. 8 meeting was requested expenditures from Project C.7, titled Trails. The Thurston Park Committee asked for $44,000 from that category for trail work in the park in northeastern China; the Four Seasons Club asked for $60,000 from the same category for work on the snowmobile and four-wheeler trails its members maintain throughout the town.

The total annual expenditure for Project C.7 is capped at $65,000.

Four Seasons Club President Thomas Rumpf and Thurston Park Committee Chairman Jeanette Smith each said they could spend a great deal more than the requested amounts. Smith talked about repairing damage from the Dec. 23 storm, fallen trees and washouts, as well as normal trail maintenance and mowing some trails and the picnic area. Rumpf said meeting new state requirements requires major trail improvements; miles have been done, but more work is needed, especially south of Route 3.

Smith also requested funds to buy a side-by-side off-road vehicle to tow the bush-hog. Committee members talked about whether TIF money can be used for equipment, whether using volunteers’ equipment and labor for park work is appropriate and what alternatives there might be.

Smith said she is waiting for a reply to an application for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds to repair the entrance road to Thurston Park, which was badly damaged in the December storm. Only after the road is reopened, she explained, can she hope to get cement poured for the planned storage building in the park. Money for the cement pad was included in the current year’s budget and appears as an unspent balance.

Town Manager Rebecca Hapgood said FEMA’s response to town requests might come in days, weeks or months.

TIF Committee members suggested Rumpf and Smith move to the far end of the room and talk out their differences. They did, and reported an agreement to split the $65,000, $32,500 apiece.

After further discussion, committee members overruled them and voted 3-1 (Danny Boivin, James “JJ” Wentworth and Michael “Mickey” Wing in the majority, Jamie Pitney opposed and Chesley abstaining) to give $25,000 to the Thurston Park Committee and the remaining $40,000 to the Four Seasons Club.

The majority’s rationale was that people bringing in snowmobiles and four-wheelers from out of town spend more at local stores and thus contribute more to the town’s economy than do Thurston Park visitors.

The Four Seasons Club’s request for a separate $5,000 from Project C.2 (Economic Development Events) for next year’s annual Ice Days celebration was tabled, as was the China Lake Association’s request for $1,000 from the same account.

Committee members unanimously endorsed the China Lake Association’s request for $10,000 and the China Region Lakes Alliance’s request for $20,000 for environmental improvements.

They also approved a total of $40,000 for the China Broadband Committee, with Pitney abstaining because he is a member of that committee.

Votes on requests from the Town of China were postponed to the next TIF Committee meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 8.

TIF Committee recommendations go to the select board. The select board will ask voters to approve total TIF expenditures at the annual town business meeting in June. At the June 14, 2022, meeting, voters approved spending a total of $265,000 in TIF funds (Art. 15 of the meeting warrant).

China broadband funding application denied

by The Town Line staff

Bob O’Connor

In an e-mail to The Town Line newspaper, Bob O’Connor, chairman of the China Broadband Committee, stated, “I am disappointed to report that our Maine Connectivity Authority (MCA) Grant “Connect The Ready” for China / Unitel/DC was not approved in this round.

Jayne Sullivan, at Unitel/DC, forwarded this letter that Daniel Parrish from Direct Communications / Unitel received. O’Connor stated, “I look forward to the follow-up and to resubmitting our application in the next funding round.”

O’Connor received the following e-mail from Sullivan: “Thanks for taking my call this morning. While we are disappointed to receive this news, we will keep moving forward and hopefully have great success in the next round. It will be interesting to see which towns were approved once that information is released.

“We are in the process of scheduling a meeting with MCA to discuss China’s application and get further insight on the application. We should schedule a conference call soon with John to discuss further.”

In an e-mail to Parrish, from Brian Allenby, of Maine Connectivity Authority, he stated, “Thank you again for all your hard work in preparing a Connect the Ready application. As you may know, we received more than $105 million in proposed projects, which is an amount well beyond the available funds for this round. Unfortunately, application CTR-0000000033 proposed for [China] was not selected for this round of Connect the Ready funding. I am sorry for what is inevitably disappointing news. We appreciate how much work goes into these applications and would welcome a dedicated conversation with you and/or your partners to discuss any questions you might have, hear your feedback on the application process, and talk through options for a path forward.”

OPINIONS: A “yes” vote urged on broadband ARPA warrant article


by Bob O’Connor
China Broadband Committee

The China Broadband Committee was formed in 2017 to find a way to bring the best Broadband internet solution to China. Last year we chose Axiom Fiber to build that system. The selectboard and townspeople voted down our proposal last November because of the risk that it could potentially adversely affect property taxes due to repayment of the $6 million bond if not enough townspeople signed up for this service.

As a committee, we went back to the drawing board to look at all possible solutions again. We reviewed proposals from our incumbent providers, Spectrum Charter, and Consolidated Communications. We found the Spectrum bulk proposal too financially risky for the town. Consolidated was not interested in expanding into China because we are in “Classic” China Telephone territory. The company might consider expansion in the distant future, seven or more years from now.

Unitel, of Unity, Maine, has been in the telephone business since 1904, about the same time that the China Telephone Company got its start. Unitel first offered fiber internet to the home in a limited area starting in 2015. Late last year, Unitel was acquired by Direct Communications, a larger family-owned company that offers fiber to the home in a few rural areas in a few US states.

Our broadband committee started working with Direct Communications (DC) shortly after they acquired Unitel last year. Unitel/DC are looking to expand to towns around Unity with the help of the current grants and funds. These grant funds can be spent to cover areas of our town that the Maine Connectivity Authority (MCA) defines as “Least Served” and “Unserved”. This includes about 25 percent of homes in China that typically have DSL or no service.

MCA now classifies the rest of town as “Underserved”, meaning that their service does not meet the minimum speed of 100/100 Mbps. This includes those with cable service from Spectrum. All new internet projects funded by MCA must be built to the minimum 100/100Mbps standard.

Our currently proposed project with Unitel/DC is to build a fiber backbone in town that is strong enough, that is, has enough fibers, to serve the whole town while initially serving the Least Served and Unserved areas. After this project is complete, Unitel/DC will continue to expand to the rest of the town, the underserved folks.

Town funding from this project is from the TIF fund of $30,000/year for 10 years for a total of $300,000. This expenditure was previously approved by the voters in 2021. Also, we are requesting $70,000. from a part of the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds that China has received.

Unitel/DC will match our $370,000 contribution to the project.

We are also applying for an MCA “Connect the Ready” grant for about $460,000. The total project is approximately $1.2 million dollars with the Town contributing 31 percent, Unitel/DC contributing 31 percent and the MCA grant covering the remaining 38 percent of the project.

We will only apply for this grant if the townspeople vote in favor of the $70,000 ARPA fund distribution on the Warrant Article on November 8, 2022.

The town selectboard unanimously (5/0) recommended a “yes” vote on this $70,000 Broadband ARPA Warrant article. The Budget committee also recommended a “yes” vote (5/1).

Neither the TIF nor the ARPA funds will raise property taxes, and Unitel/DC would fully own and operate this service with no requirement for involvement from town staff.

Fiber internet service by Unitel / Direct Communications will improve internet speeds and reliability, increase value of your home, encourage economic development in town, allow for online learning, education, work, telehealth, and entertainment at an affordable and competitive price.

We appreciate your support. Thank you.

Read more about China’s broadband initiatives here.

China select board postpones action on broadband expansion

by Mary Grow

China select board members were joined by local, out-of-town and out-of-state spokespeople for broadband service at the July 18 select board meeting.

Robert O’Connor, chairman of the China Broadband Committee (CBC), had shared with select board members and town attorney Amanda Meader a proposed memorandum of agreement (MOU) with Direct Communications, based in Rockland, Idaho, and its local subsidiary, UniTel of Unity, Maine. Representatives of both telecommunications companies spoke with select board members.

Because Meader had raised questions based on her preliminary review of the document, select board members postponed action. They proposed direct discussions between Meader and a Direct Communications attorney.

Select board members decided to go ahead with a smaller project on the July 18 agenda, drafting a local fireworks ordinance that they hope to have ready to submit to voters on Nov. 8.

They do not intend to ban fireworks in town, as board chairman Ronald Breton said some Maine towns have done. They do intend to set a nightly curfew intended to benefit people who have to get up early to go to work or send children to school.

In other business, board members unanimously:

  • Appointed Nicholas French as China’s Licensed Plumbing Inspector; and
  • Renewed the pawnbrokers license for Wildwood Pawn, Inc., on Gunshop Road, off Morrill Road.

The next regular China select board meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 1.

Seek volunteers for comprehensive plan committee

China select board members are seeking volunteers for the Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee and a Regional School Unit (RSU) 18 Cost Share Committee.

The job of the Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee, which they decided to limit to seven members, is to review the revised town plan that voters approved at the June 14 town business meeting and decide what should be done, and by what official or committee, to carry out recommendations.

The RSU #18 Cost Share Committee, for which three China members will join representatives from the other four towns (Belgrade, Oakland, Rome and Sidney), will review the formula by which costs are divided among the five towns. Select board chairman Ronald Breton said the current formula bases cost-sharing 75 percent on each town’s property valuation and 25 percent on each town’s student enrollment.

China residents interested in serving on either committee should contact the town office.

CHINA: Town and Direct Communications, Unitel to work on broadband expansion

At their July 5 meeting, China select board members recognized Tim Grotton, center, for his years of service at the transfer station. Board Chairman Ronald Breton, left, and Town Manager Rebecca Hapgood, right, praised his management, crediting him with keeping the facility clean and setting an example for the rest of the staff with his polite and helpful attitude. Not just the transfer station, Hapgood added; Grotton would fill in when the public works department needed an extra man for anything from cutting a tree to controling traffic, and he always responded to her call of “Hey, Tim, I need….”

by Mary Grow

China select board members have taken under advisement a memorandum of understanding with Direct Communications of Rockland, Idaho, represented locally by subsidiary UniTel, of Unity, to expand broadband service to town residents.

Members of China’s Broadband Committee (CBC) discussed a cooperative arrangement at several meetings, the most recent an hour and a half before the July 5 select board meeting. UniTel representatives had just received the proposed memorandum from Idaho; CBC members reviewed it and handed it on to select board members.

As they expected, select board chair Ronald Breton postponed action until board members and the town attorney have given the document full review. The proposed agreement is tentatively on the July 18 select board agenda.

In summary, it says the town and the companies will work cooperatively on an expansion of China’s broadband service, starting with offering service to houses that currently are unserved or underserved (have no broadband connection, or have service that is slow, unreliable or otherwise unsatisfactory).

Total project cost is estimated at around $1.2 million. China will be asked to contribute $370,000, $100,000 up front and the remainder over nine years.

Direct Communications and UniTel will match the town amount; other funds, especially a state grant aimed at underserved and unserved areas, will provide the rest of the money. Direct Communications will build and maintain the broadband network, which will belong to the company. Users will be charged locally competitive fees.

If the project fails to receive a state grant, participants in the July 5 discussions said reluctantly that it would not go forward.

Assessor William Van Tuinen attended the July 5 select board meeting to conclude the discussion about property valuations he started at the June 6 meeting (see The Town Line, June 16, p. 3).

Van Tuinen proposed, and select board members unanimously accepted, several changes applicable to different building types, lot locations and specific neighborhoods. He based his recommendations on sales data from the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021, disregarding 2022 price increases, an approach he called first “reasonably conservative” and later in the discussion “very conservative.”

The goal of the changes is to keep China’s land and building valuations close enough to state valuations to avoid penalties. Van Tuinen expects to achieve this goal; and, he said, being conservative means that if property prices start falling, China should be able to avoid or minimize downward valuation adjustments.

In other business July 5, Town Manager Rebecca Hapgood shared a handout showing that China has received $454,887.08 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. Voters at the June 14 town business meeting approved uses for $132,200, leaving a balance of $322,687.08.

One of CBC Chairman Robert O’Connor’s suggestions is that China’s $370,000 contribution to broadband expansion come partly from ARPA money.

Breton, responding to a complaint from a resident, said he intends to pursue a new town ordinance that would limit hours for fireworks. State law allows them from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. on weekends, he said.

Breton agreed with both concerns the resident expressed: fireworks in general are hard on veterans and other people with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), and late-night fireworks are hard on people who have to go to work the next morning.

Hapgood said she will look for ordinances from other Maine towns as possible models.

The manager encouraged select board members to volunteer for China Community Days activities. The annual celebration, scheduled for Aug. 5 through Aug. 8 this year, is a chance for officials to meet their constituents informally, she said.

Hapgood again reminded those present that nomination papers for local elective office will be available at the town office Aug. 1. On Nov. 8, China voters will choose three select board members, three planning board members, four members of the budget committee and one representative to the Regional School Unit #16 board of directors.

The next regular China select board meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, July 18, in the town office meeting room.

China Broadband Committee (CBC) continues talks with Unitel

by Mary Grow

China Broadband Committee (CBC) members met again with representatives of Unity-based Unitel to talk about a cooperative project expanding broadband service to China residents who currently have no service or inadequate (by 2022 standards) service.

The focus was on expanding service to homes that are currently underserved (have slow internet speed, unreliable service or other issues) or unserved (have no broadband access at all). This extension of a fiber network might be the first phase or phases of a multi-year town-wide upgrade.

Joining the discussion with CBC members at a June 15 meeting were Unitel representatives Michael Akers, Director of Network Operations, and Jayne Sullivan, Director of Internal/External Support; and consultant John Dougherty, Vice President and General Manager at Bangor-based Mission Broadband.

Unitel is now part of Direct Communications, a company based in Rockland, Idaho, that supports broadband service in rural areas.

To develop the planned China project into a proposal to present to town officials and residents, group members agreed they will need two things: specific locations of underserved and unserved areas to be upgraded, and money.

They had a colorful map of China identified as a Connect Maine Map, with a web address: https://maps.sewall.com/connectme/public/. The website has a lengthy note that says, among other things, that most of the map information was reported by internet service providers and that most of it dates from September 2019, with some updates to September 2021.

CBC members Tod Detre, Janet Preston and Jamie Pitney all said the map showed full service in areas they knew to be at best underserved.

In a follow-up email, Detre questioned whether Yorktown Road, which runs through Thurston Park, really has full service, as the map shows. Thurston Park Committee Chairman Jeanette Smith replied that there are no utility poles or lines anywhere in the park, and therefore no internet service.

“The map is the gospel” for funding, Sullivan said, so it needs to be accurate. Akers thinks it is up to a local group – like the CBC – to provide correct information.

Akers presented a preliminary cost estimate of around $1.2 million to provide service to the areas mapped as unserved or underserved. The group agreed that up to half the money might come from Connect Maine grants specifically designated to provide new or improved service to unserved and underserved areas.

Dougherty and Akers talked about Unitel and Direct Communications providing perhaps as much as $300,000. These very tentative estimates would leave the Town of China with about another $300,000 to pay, which Pitney suggested might come from the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) fund. The TIF document currently in effect appropriates $30,000 a year for broadband for 10 years.

Another possibility, committee chairman Robert O’Connor said, is to allocate the next installment of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to broadband expansion.

Akers’ plan includes a new service building in South China near the junction of Routes 32 and 202. The building would be about 15-by-15-feet, or smaller, he said, and would house electronic equipment. If plans come to fruition, CBC members may well be looking for a building or a lot to lease or buy.

O’Connor made a short presentation to China select board members at their June 21 meeting. On June 15 CBC members tentatively scheduled their next meeting for 5 p.m. Wednesday, July 6; on June 21, O’Connor tentatively rescheduled it to 5 p.m. Tuesday, July 5, before that evening’s select board meeting.

Help by doing speed check

China residents who want to help update the Connect Maine map, or only to find out how good their internet service is, are invited to do speed tests. The link to do them, provided by Jayne Sullivan of Unitel, is https://www.mainebroadbandcoalition.org/. To complete the test successfully, residents must carefully check even what seem like unnecessary boxes, like the one that says “check address.”