Kennebunk looks to improve internet service

Kennebunk is looking for ways to provide faster, more reliable internet capabilities for residents. Press Herald photo

KENNEBUNK – Uploading material that contains a lot of photos and other graphics to the internet at Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Arundel Chamber of Commerce can sometimes take as long as a long midday lunch.

The uploads can slow the internet so much that those who work there wait until the end of the day, so as not to interrupt the workflow of others.

And it seems like it does not make a lot of difference where you are in Kennebunk – downtown or in one of the residential neighborhoods tucked behind Route 1, the problem is the same.

Ask Laura Dolce, the Chamber director, who has the issue at home, as well as at the Water Street office.

“We have never had stable internet and we still don’t,” she said, adding that surveys show her the matter has become an issue throughout the community.

She said the town currently does not have the infrastructure necessary to attract those who telecommute.

The Economic Development Committee and the select board have been seeking solutions, and recently entered into an agreement with Tilson to conduct a Fiber to the Home feasibility study to look at how the internet might be improved. The study will include recommendations, an action plan, design, and capital cost estimates.

Steve Sawyer, chair of the Economic Development Committee’s Connectivity Subcommittee said the resolution to the internet issue is in its infancy. But he said the goal is to have reliable, fast internet available to everyone in town who wants it.

“How we get there is to be determined,” said Sawyer. “We’re in the early stages. Hopefully, there will be more to report in the first quarter.”

The select board agreed to the $14,500 study at a recent meeting. “Our broadband structure is weak, and it makes it difficult to attract quality business,” said board chair Blake Baldwin.

“Having access to broadband is critical for many reasons, for people trying to work (at home) or in smaller offices, it’s a significant challenge right now,” said board member Shiloh Schulte.

Resident Dan Sayre told the board he is pleased to see the town looking at the issue.

In an email, Sayre, a consultant in STEM education policy who works from home, said he is online, video chatting, daily. He said he does not upload a lot of data, but said if he did, the slow speed would be a problem. For him, the issue is cost.

“I’d love to see a public option, if it’s possible to get internet for less than I’m paying now,” said Sayre, who shells out $225 a month for internet, cable and phone. “That seems like a lot to me.”

The lack of reliable internet and the slow speeds consumers currently experience has been a consistent obstacle for many local businesses and for residents working remotely, said June Huston, chair of the Economic Development Committee.

“We don’t want to lose our ability to attract new tech, marketing and other businesses that benefit from having fast internet speeds,” said Huston. “Fast internet speeds support their training needs, the ability to video conference with larger groups of attendees and increases their employee productivity.”

Sawyer said at present Spectrum provides most of the town’s internet service, and Consolidated Communications provides a small portion – although he said, Consolidated has expressed some recent interest is doing more, as has Otelco.

Otelco, a telecommunications provider in Maine, Vermont and several southern states is expanding its last mile “fiber to the premises” network to include portions of Old Orchard Beach, Saco and Biddeford, where construction is expected to begin in the spring.

 

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