TMCnews Featured Article
October 13, 2009
Island Town off of Maine's Coast Seeks Broadband Stimulus Funding
By Michael Dinan, TMCnet Editor
Two years after gaining independence from the mainland Maine town of Cumberland, Chebeague Island is seeking $75,000 in loans and $73,470 in grant money from the federal government to extend high-speed Internet services under the so-called “broadband stimulus” program.
The federal government – specifically, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the U.S. Department of Commerce agency that advises the president on telecom policy – said it hopes to begin awarding grants early in November.
TMCnet recently spoke put some questions about the island’s proposal to David Hill, treasurer of chebeague.net, Inc.
According to Hill, though Chebeague Island just 10 miles from the largest city in Maine, Portland, residents there didn’t have anything faster than dial-up service until chebeague.net brought broadband three years ago.
“With the help of a dozen investors who each put up between $5,000 and $10,000, we got the service going,” he told TMCnet in an interview (printed in full below). “The investors are more interested in serving their community than realizing a return on their equity. Fully serving the residents and businesses of Chebeague Island will enable the survival of the island as a viable 21st century community.”
Echoing what we’ve heard from other small organizations seeking broadband stimulus funding, Hill described the application process as challenging.
“The paperwork reduction statement indicated that it would take 400 hours to complete the application, which works out to one person working full-time for ten weeks,” he said. “And this with about a seven-week turnaround requirement. For small companies such as ours, that just isn’t physically possible.”
The organization’s proposal, if awarded, would extend broadband Internet services to unserved portions of Chebeague Island, and improve bandwidth availability for the entire underserved island. In addition, the project is expected to position the system for possible future microwave acquisition of bandwidth and may be used to extend needed cellular telephone service to the Island which is, in large part, unserved.
Our full exchange follows.
TMCnet: We’ve read the Executive Summary of your application, and clearly the organization feels there’s a strong need for funding. Take us a little bit beyond the numbers. How will U.S. citizens, consumers and businesses benefit if you’re awarded this grant money?
David Hill (pictured left): Chebeague Island is an isolated community and even though it’s only 10 miles from the largest city in Maine, we didn’t have anything faster than dial-up service until chebeague.net brought broadband here three years ago. With the help of a dozen investors who each put up between $5,000 and $10,000, we got the service going. The investors are more interested in serving their community than realizing a return on their equity. Fully serving the residents and businesses of Chebeague Island will enable the survival of the island as a viable 21st century community.
TMCnet: How did you find the application process? What would you recommend the U.S. government tweak in the process, if anything?
DH: The application process was a challenge, to say the least. The paperwork reduction statement indicated that it would take 400 hours to complete the application, which works out to one person working full-time for ten weeks. And this with about a seven-week turnaround requirement. For small companies such as ours, that just isn’t physically possible. It would appear to favor the larger corporations with departments devoted to market development. The BIP/BTOP joint application was very confusing regarding what could and could not be applied for.
TMCnet: What would you tell reviewers at NTIA about your organization if you could have one minute to talk to them moments before they looked at your application?
DH: If possible, we’d like to apply for the BTOP only, grant funds without a loan. We can handle a loan, but would be much more viable with just a grant.
TMCnet: Tell us in plain terms how important it is for your organization to receive this grant money. If you do not receive government funding, what will you do to improve services in the way you’re seeking?
DH: Without the funding, we will soon find ourselves in the position where our customers can’t take advantage of the new services that are becoming commonplace. 768 kbps will become the new “dial-up” speed. Plus, we’re hoping to reach sections of our island that have been thus far unreachable. Finally, the tower we hope to erect might bring much needed cell phone service to the Island. Without the funding, we’ll remain underserved, both in terms of bandwidth and cell service.
Michael Dinan is a contributing editor for TMCnet, covering news in the IP communications, call center and customer relationship management industries. To read more of Michael's articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Michael Dinan