Members of Eastern Slopes Regional Broadband meet July 24 at the Sweden Town Hall to discuss potential internet service providers they could partner with in their next grant application to Maine Connectivity Authority. From left are Bill Findeisen and Jamie Ritter, both of Denmark, Kerry Welton and Jamie Popkin, both of Sweden, and Tom Clay of Brownfield. Vanessa Paolella/Sun Journal

SWEDEN — As an at-home web-based graphic designer, Kerry Welton needs internet to work each day.

But in the small western Maine town of Sweden where she lives, internet is never a guarantee. Welton has daily problems with her service, and it often blinks off without warning.

“Then, sometimes it just will go out for longer periods of time, and there’s no rhyme or reason,” she said.

Welton’s frustrations are shared by many people in rural Maine who rely on low-speed internet transmitted through copper phone lines. Some have no access at all.

Often in these areas, the population density is so low it is not economically feasible for internet providers to improve broadband infrastructure.

Sweden, population 400, is one of a number of western Maine towns that stands to benefit from the $272 million the federal government awarded to the state this year to expand high-speed internet access. The money will be leveraged by the Maine Connectivity Authority to incentivize service providers to expand into underserved areas in the state.


Tanya Emery, Maine Connectivity Authority’s economic development director, said the funds promise to transform many communities with poor internet access. The award is far more than what the state had hoped to receive.

Yet, Emery cautions that the program will take time to roll out.

The authority is expected to finalize its five-year action plan this month and its application process in December, she said. Next spring, it plans to begin working with local stakeholders to improve the accuracy of its broadband map.

“Before we deploy these funds we (need to make sure we) have the best possible map,” Emery said. “We don’t want to send money and providers and communities on a fool’s errand to deploy resources in a place that it’s not required.”

Interactive graphic used courtesy of Maine Connectivity Authority. 

The authority will target the most critically unserved communities when it begins considering potential projects in August 2024, Emery said. Private investment from internet service providers and local communities will play a key role in determining just how many households and businesses the authority can reach with its funds, she said.


The Maine Connectivity Authority is also working to understand where internet service providers may soon build out on their own, said Brian Allenby, program operations and communications director.

“We certainly don’t want to duplicate those efforts,” he said. “It’s only going to be with their support in their private investment that we really start chipping away at that underserved (community).”

According to data from the authority, roughly one in five locations in western Maine are unserved, meaning they have little to no internet connection. Another 10% of locations have no connection at all.

Residents in Sweden and neighboring towns have already been working to improve their internet access, which is among the worst in the region. Two years ago, the town joined Denmark, Brownfield, Fryeburg, Lovell, Stoneham and Stow in creating Eastern Slopes Regional Broadband, a coalition that aims to bring high-speed internet to all residents.

In May, the coalition found partial success. The Maine Connectivity Authority awarded a grant to Spectrum to bring high-speed internet to residents in a group of western Maine towns, including Denmark, Fryeburg and Lovell.

The coalition’s other four towns plan to apply for a grant from the Maine Connectivity Authority this month in partnership with a local internet provider.


This will be the final competitive grant window for broadband funding from the American Rescue Plan Act. To date, the authority has already awarded more than $100 million to 53 projects across the state since 2021, according to data on its site.

If the coalition is unsuccessful with the application, it will see what may be possible from the $272 million in broadband funds.

According to data from the coalition, 100% of households in Brownfield, Stoneham, Stow and Sweden do not meet federal broadband standards and are classified as unserved.

Sweden, population 400, is one of a number of western Maine towns that stand to benefit from the $272 million in federal funds awarded to the state earlier this year to expand high-speed internet access. The historic school house in Sweden, seen in July, is now the headquarters of the town’s historical society. Vanessa Paolella/Sun Journal

Welton, a member of Sweden’s Board of Selectmen and the broadband coalition, said residents need better internet for more than just those who work from home. Poor internet makes it difficult for students to complete assignments, for residents to have telehealth appointments, and for emergency responders to communicate with each other.

“Our fire station can’t communicate in parts of Sweden, because they won’t get service,” she said. Many areas lacking adequate internet connection also lack cell service, she said.

Some people in the area have spent hundreds to install Starlink, a satellite internet service from SpaceX, coalition Chairman James Ritter of Denmark said. But for the vast majority of people, the cost is beyond their means.


Ritter said it will take tens of millions of dollars to build out broadband infrastructure in the four remaining towns.

The authority is not yet sure how it will distribute the $272 million in federal funding, Emery said. Rather than use a competitive application process like it currently does, she said members will be looking to develop the right solutions which bring high-speed internet to the greatest number of people.

“I think it’s going to be more cooperative, working with communities and regions to put together solutions,” she said. “There may still be something that looks like an application or a process. I think it’s a little early to say exactly what it’s going to look like.”

“We need to anticipate that there’s going to be a lot of conversation and project development work that needs to happen to come up with the most cost-effective way to deploy these resources so that we can reach and serve the most locations with the funding that we have available,” she continued.

This means that high cost locations — say a single home located down a 10-mile dirt road or on an island — will be a lower priority than clusters of unserved locations, Emery said. The authority will consider alternative means to help people in high-cost locations.

Digital equity will be a key consideration for the authority, Allenby said, meaning it will consider social factors like income and education level when determining which projects to pursue first.

More information about the project selection process is expected to be available in December.

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