OTISFIELD — Nearly all residents will have high-speed Internet service available by next summer, the town’s major provider has announced.

FairPoint Communications announced it will install four terminals — two each in Otisfield and Harrison — that will expand DSL service to 284 businesses and residences. 

The announcement follows a long effort by residents, businesses and town officials to pressure the company into making the upgrades after the company purchased landlines from Verizon in 2008. 

According to an application submitted May 23, FairPoint expects to expand Internet coverage to 98 percent of the town. Of those, about 77 percent will have access to 3 megabits per second,  while 90 percent will have access to bandwidth of about 1.5 Mbps — the minimum for one computer to stream a video.

The project has an estimated $387,500 price tag, about half of which will be funded through a state program. A grant will pick up $186,000 of the bill, about 48 percent of the overall project cost. The telecommunications company will fund the remaining $201,500. The estimated cost per household and business is $654.93. 

The funds were awarded through ConnectME, a small state agency that develops broadband Internet in areas of the state — typically rural — where access is limited or nonexistent.

Funded through a surcharge of $1.5 million a year, the agency is the state’s broadband authority with funds to entice telecommunications companies to develop in areas otherwise financially unfeasible, according to ConnectME Executive Director Phil Lindley. 

“If the project looks like it warrants funding, we tell companies to apply for the grant,” Lindley said. 

Jeff Nevin, a spokesperson for FairPoint, said the state funding was critical to making a “business case” for the capital investment in the project. 

To qualify for the grant, Lindley said FairPoint met the definition of “unserved” because a high percentage of its customers received less than 1.5 Mbps. According to the application, 299 of 452 FairPoint customers in Otisfield and Harrison do not have access to broadband.

“People are doing a lot more than texting, browsing and checking their email,” he said.  

Speeds in Otisfield were slower partly due to the distance cables had to go from exchange stations, a gap called the “last mile,” the high cost of which often deemed prohibitive to bringing broadband access to rural communities. 

The project in Otisfield was chosen in the ninth round of this year’s grant process, and is the second-costliest project behind a $730,000 effort in Orono. 

The issue has proved frustrating for locals who said they receive only a fraction of the service they’re paying for. As part of the application, Lindley said the agency received 11 letters of support, including those from selectmen, state Rep. Roger Jackson, R-Oxford, and state Sen. James Hamper, R-Oxford.

“Once they can show that level of support, it makes it much easier to go to the provider,” Lindley said.

Selectman Rick Micklon, who has served as the town’s point of contact for the grant process, said the upgrades are key for the town’s economy. 

“In my mind this is a victory for the town. Having an increased broadband is huge for bringing us into the future,” he said.

Resident Georgina Grenier, who has contacted state and federal agencies in a drive to put pressure on FairPoint to offer faster service, said, “I’m delighted at the news and I’m hopeful they’ll follow through.” 

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