Everyone in this small Aroostook town will get high-speed internet this year

Everyone in this small Aroostook town will get high-speed internet this year

EASTON, Maine – Every resident of a small town in Aroostook County will be connected to the Internet this spring.

The town of 1,320 has signed an agreement with Spectrum, operated by Charter Communications, to provide services to 128 homes that are not connected to the internet.

Easton will be a rare example of a small town in Aroostook that is 100% connected. According to a survey by Aroostook County Commissioners and the Aroostook Partnership business group, one in four homes in Aroostook County lack reliable high-speed internet access. Easton saw high demand for broadband before the pandemic, but the need intensified as masses of outsiders moved in, city officials said.

“During COVID, Easton has become a haven for residents of New Jersey, Alabama and Connecticut,” Easton City Manager Jim Gardner said. “They’re all moving to Easton, a small town in the United States.”

Two major industries dominate the town: Huber Engineered Woods and McCain Foods. But many newcomers want to work from home in other industries, Gardner said. Without Internet access, they are blocked.

Across Maine, rural communities have struggled with a lack of broadband. Demand skyrocketed during the pandemic as students studied online and telemedicine became a household word. A group of towns in Piscataquis County banded together last year to tackle the problem, and Caribou is considering two plans.

Rounds of state and federal funding have aimed to fill the gaps in broadband access. In July, Governor Janet Mills announced that the state would receive $100 million to expand high-speed internet in Mane.

Last August, Easton signed an agreement with Spectrum to extend the development of broadband service to its remaining unconnected homes.

Easton is acquiring permits to install poles, and workers will begin installing high-speed cable strands in April or May at the latest, Gardner said.

The project will cost approximately $730,000. In addition to a $300,000 grant from Aroostook County’s American Rescue Plan Act funds and a $275 contribution from Spectrum, which Easton will not have to repay, the city will use the money from its own bailout to make up the difference.

The expansion project does not use local taxpayer money, Gardner said.

Broadband access will make a huge difference because it will open up service to everyone on the east side of Route 1A, he said.

Some homes near the Canadian border used to have the HughesNet satellite internet provider, but the service wasn’t great and people had better connections with mobile hotspots.

Other projects on Easton’s plate include an 18-lot subdivision for small business or housing estates, moving the municipal office from 3 Station Road to 80 Center Road, next to Country Farms Market, and $279,500 renovations at Prestile Park.

Having an Internet solution makes Gardner happy. He wrote the grant the city received from the county.

“I’ve been writing grants for 25 years and I’m not always successful, but I’m not always losing either,” Gardner said. “It’s like rolling the dice, isn’t it?” Sometimes you roll sevens and sometimes you roll snake eyes.

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