Strong: Selectmen updated on internet options

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STRONG — Townspeople who are frustrated with paying for slow and unreliable internet access may have a chance to participate in a grass-roots effort to change that.

Charlie Woodworth, a spokesman for the Opportunity Center of North Franklin County, told selectmen Tuesday night that the organization has partnered with other county groups to explore ways to bring affordable, high-quality internet service to towns and the unorganized territories.

The groups have met with Maine’s state government program director to seek funding assistance. They will award applicants up to $80,000 for planning, Woodworth said.

“We’ve had four community meetings, and we’ve asked people to check their internet speed to see if they are getting what they pay for,” he said.

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The state grants will be awarded by the end of May, and the planning grant consultant will be Old Town-based J.W. Sewall. Solutions could include coaxial cable or wireless towers, but the planning phase of the project would have to involve all possible players, Woodworth said.

Selectman Mike Pond said he was concerned that the various cell-tower signals might interfere with each other and cause further problems for the Sheriff’s Office dispatch center and NorthStar Emergency Medical Services. The county’s expansion of its signal to rural areas cost $100,000 more than originally expected, he said.

The county needs to be in the loop for federal funds, and local financing may be available through Franklin County’s Targeted Increment Financing plan.

“I think we can fund it without asking the towns for money,” Woodworth said.

In other matters, selectmen approved spending $2,999 from the Forster Memorial Building account to buy a tractor. Pond suggested selectmen might want to consider holding a special town meeting to enter a long-term lease/purchase agreement to buy a tractor for heavier maintenance work such as mowing the roadsides.

Pond also noted that officials have to address two immediate safety inspection issues at the Forster building, one with the chair lift from the ground floor to the basement, and another with the kitchen’s fire-suppression system, which was never inspected after it was installed. He also suggested that the selectmen revise policies on the public’s use of the building for private functions.

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