FARMINGTON — Nearly 100 people at a public meeting Wednesday night asked when western Maine could have affordable high-speed internet service like the rest of the state.

The answer: There appears to be a plan but no definite timeline.

The meeting at Franklin Memorial Hospital was a step forward in a grassroots effort to inform residents and businesses about their options.

“It’s been a yearlong grassroots effort to get here,” said Charlie Woodworth, executive director of the Greater Franklin Development Council. “People want this.”

The Franklin County Broadband Initiative is a collaborative effort by The Opportunity Center of North Franklin County, Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments, Greater Franklin Development Council, Rangeley Economic Opportunity Committee and the Sandy River Business Association.

They have spent the past year meeting with town selectmen and county commissioners to hear their concerns and commitment to getting better quality upload and download speeds to homes and businesses.

Woodworth said towns will get assistance with the implementation process as the final plan moves forward.

Officials from Regional School Units 9 and 73 said students often have poor or no connections at home. They stay after school to complete assignments and they can’t take online classes. Many in adult education classes have full-time jobs and could stay home to complete their GED studies, RSU 9 Director Glenn Kapiloff said.

Representatives of Franklin County real estate agents, doctors, town managers and insurance agents said they don’t want to be left behind because they lack high-speed internet service.

Consultant Brian Lippold of the J.W. Sewall Co. presented an analysis of the current services and areas they cover. The goal, he said, is to develop a plan that entire municipalities, plantations and townships can afford.

Towns need to find ways to attract new business, new home buyers and opportunities for people to work from home, he said. Connecting to the internet has grown far beyond checking email. Quality affordable internet access is part of Franklin County’s economic future. Stopping the migration out of the area is a critical component, Lippold said.

“The greatest benefit is to stop the out-migration and increase the in-migration,” he said.

Planning for the future is critical, and everyone needs to become part of the problem solving process. Other regions have gotten grant funds to do planning studies, but Franklin County’s study is unique, Lippold said.

All 22 communities contributed a share of the seed money to get the grant process started, he said. He suggested there’s competition for local internet business, but there has to be an economic value for the companies that deliver that service, as well.

Lippold’s 500-page study will be available by Friday on the Greater Franklin Development Council’s website. For information, contact [email protected]


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