APPLETON — The feds of Appleton spoke out about the broadband problem at the Sept. 13 Town Select Board meeting, throwing vitriol at provider Consolidated Communications Company, while a spokesman for a rival offered hope for the future.
Alan Hinsey, Tidewater’s director of marketing and sales, said the Maine Connectivity Authority is preparing to award $150 million in grants — perhaps up to $300 million — to bring internet services to communities and to to enhance. Hinsey was invited to address the board by Member Peter Beckett, who is also a member of the city’s Broadband Committee. Tidewater provides fiber optic internet service to many homes across the city.
Earlier this year, Appleton provided $66,000 to match a grant Tidewater requested for Appleton upgrades from the agency’s predecessor, ConnectMe. It was intended to serve households that were not yet connected. However, Tidewater’s application was denied — a first for the Maine-based company, Hinsey said.
That left the 44 Appleton homes that have not yet been upgraded with Tidewater fiber optic Internet still unserviced or with service often abysmal, according to people who addressed the meeting in person or via email. Due to the cost of reaching some areas, no service was initially provided to some households. These are the people Tidewater wants to connect through another, mostly federal, round of funding.
But some customers of the city’s other provider spoke to the board in person and via email about what they described as poor Consolidated Communications Internet, television and phone service. One called their failed service a matter of “life and death.”
The board discussion took place as the Appleton and Hope Town Broadband Committees prepare for a joint meeting on Thursday 22 September at 5pm at Hope Town’s offices at 441 Camden St.
After hearing broadband horror stories from the audience and reading four emails from disaffected residents, CEO Lorie Costigan suggested the city be caught in the middle and blamed for something beyond her control.
“As Chair, I have to say I’m a bit concerned that they seem to have thought that last time we voted on something other than in favor of backing the grant, or that there appears to be an agreement… or one.” Thought process about the Internet is something that we, the elected body, regulate or provide.”
She called the situation “a little difficult in my opinion,” and took the opportunity to clarify what may be misunderstandings among residents about the role of the City of Appleton and its Select Board, particularly in relation to the issue that Tidewater has not received grants earlier year.
“People think it was a municipal decision,” Costigan said. “I want to clarify that this board was not involved.”
And as if to make it clear again, she came back to the same subject later in the session. “To reiterate,” Costigan said, “this board approved a grant application submitted by Tidewater earlier in the year and offered a portion of its ARPA (federal) funding to support that grant application, and Tidewater received it.” does not receive this grant from ConnectMe . So the only action taken by this body so far has been to approve a grant application…and that application has been denied.”
She also stressed the fact that the broadband industry has little or no oversight. “That’s a very important point,” she said. “The Internet is not viewed as a utility … there is no higher authority for accountability.”
And Costigan urged Hinsey to publicly emphasize the positive role Appleton played in the amount of internet connectivity the city actually has. All but the 44 houses have service, according to Hinsey.
Appleton, he replied, was “very supportive.”
He said Tidewater is ready to apply in the new round of grant funding once guidelines are available. He expects the first round to begin in October and said the money for the company’s hoped-for Appleton project would most likely be part of a $20 million federal funding pool earmarked for just the type of situation who experience the 44 households.
And there will be a new wrinkle in the modus operandi, he added: private companies will be involved in the so-called “line extension” funding category.
“It’s brand new,” Hinsey said. “We will be requesting RFQs (Request for Quote) from any provider who wishes to participate and can provide a line extension. Once they qualify, they come in with their proposals and it becomes a negotiation process. This has never happened before,” he said, adding that the new approach could result in cost savings.
Whatever the outcome, residents angered by Consolidated Communications weren’t shy about saying so, and some also threw barbs at a city committee’s suggestion that Covid-related federal funds be allocated not for broadband relief but for a place to issue storage of ashes in the cemetery Some residents are still struggling with internet problems.
The e-mails from Redmond resident Scott and three other e-mails to the board of directors were filed by Costigan.
Redmond has listed a litany of frustrating issues with his provider, which he said will only get worse when his kids start using the internet for school.
Speaking in his neighborhood, he said: “This has been a constant concern at Consolidated for the past 10 years,” adding, “Since the rest of the community in Appleton has access to fiber optic internet, it’s only fair to offer it to everyone differently.” “
Bob Bocko agreed, writing about Internet access for everyone: “In my opinion, that has a much higher priority than the beauty of a place where the ashes of love are kept in Pine Grove (cemetery) … to help them Those who still do not have access to high speed internet should be given priority. I would even go so far as to say that it is a modern necessity of life.”
Beth Linscott’s email about broadband services read in part: “When did we start offering options to just some residents but not others depending on which end of town you live on or who is on your street. Shame on you.”
And from Susan White, there was this appeal: “My husband’s heart monitor needs the DSL to record his pacemaker… Well, it’s really a matter of life and death.”
Her email continued: “We have to turn everything off just to watch TV. I don’t get music. I’m getting turned away from Zoom meetings, I’ve missed deadlines… it’s just crazy and they (Consolidated) really don’t care. They’ve stripped this company to the bone. I’m just beside myself.”
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