USDA Invites Comments - David Hill Responds

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USDA Invites Comments on the Implementation of the e-Connectivity Pilot Program.

USDA is developing this pilot program to catalyze private investment and bring broadband to unserved rural areas

click here for background

From: David Hill

Here's my comment to the USDA regarding their pilot program, which was called to our attention by the Maine Municipal Association.  

This was done as a private citizen, but I thought you all might be interested.


Twelve years ago, my sister-in-law and I established broadband service on a small island in Maine, with a year-round population of 350, seasonal population estimated to be 1,500.  We now provide DSL service to 89% of the year-round residences and about 30% of seasonal customers. Information about our grassroots effort to serve our island will be found at .

Due to Chebeague Island's size and isolation, the major telecoms declined to serve this island community. We now work with Axiom Technologies who are embarking on a project to deploy fiber around the island in conjunction with the Town of Chebeague Island.  However, this will involve a $1.5 million municipal investment which will have to be bonded with taxpayer approval, which may not happen. A video about our efforts may be viewed at

My first comment regards speed.  The criterion must NOT be highest available speeds up and own for the simple reason that those speeds are not available to all.  In our case, our maximum DSL speeds of 20.0/1.5 are achievable in only the closest of households.  About half of the customers receive speeds lower than 10/1 and many cannot receive service at all due to the distance from the DSLAM and/or deteriorating copper lines (owned by FairPoint/Consolidated Communications).  The criterion should and must be 10/1 available to and achievable by ALL households in the served area, which must be the entire island.

My second comment regards funding.  The Town of Cranberry Isles, Maine, voted two years ago to nearly double their annual budget to fund a $1.3 broadband project.  Fortunately, the USDA recently granted the Town 85% of the amount needed to fund the project, relieving the taxpayers of a significant burden.  Towns shouldn't be tempted to delay broadband deployment in hopes of receiving federal or state funding in the future.  A mechanism should be in place to allow towns to make the necessary investment and to later recover a large portion of that investment through the Broadband e-Connectivity Program, much like what happened on Cranberry Isles.

My last comment regards the importance of broadband to so many aspects of our lives and livelihoods, but are amplified for those who live on islands physically separated from the mainland.  Island residents cannot easily travel for medical appointments; distance medicine via Internet can save lives.  Shopping for everyday necessities is assisted by good connectivity.  Education for our 30 island students is enhanced by high speed service in homes.  Telecommuting is essential to the future economy.  Economic development through e-commerce (in both directions) is critical to community preservation. The list goes on and on.

We can list young families that would not have moved to Chebeague Island if adequate, reliable Internet service were not available.  As the demands for higher speeds continue (and they most certainly will increase), we fear that we may lose many of the young families we have now and cease to attract new young families in the future.  This has dire consequences for our community.  If we don't have young families, we don't have children in the school.  If we don't have children in the school, we don't have a school.  If we don't have a school, we lose ALL of our young families and the death spiral is inevitable.

In 1900, there were over three hundred island communities in the State of Maine (with their own schools); now there are only fourteen, of which Chebeague is one.  There are many reasons for this decline, but the message is clear; islands are fragile communities.  Communications are critical to community survival and the pattern is painfully obvious.  If our island doesn't keep pace with the communications technology of the rest of the nation and the world, we will not survive.

In short, as unbelievable as it may seem,our island's very existence is dependent upon fast, reliable broadband connectivity.

I thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this dialogue and applaud your efforts to enhance the lives of all citizens, particularly those in rural area.