The ConnectME program was developed in 2006 to extend high-speed internet access to rural areas which otherwise would not be served. It is funded by a 0.25 percent surcharge on in-state retail communications services. The Federal Broadband Stimulus Fund provides additional money. Projects are supported through grants, loans, or direct investments. Isle au Haut was part of the fifth round of ConnectME grants, and is the most expensive grant per household, so far, at $3,207 per household. According to Phil Lindley, Executive Director of the ConnectME Authority, new projects are likely to be more expensive than projects funded in the past because the remaining unserved areas are especially remote.
TDS offers telephone and internet services to the communities of Isle au Haut, Matinicus, Frenchboro, and Swan’s Island. DSL has been available to the more densely populated parts of Isle au Haut for several years; however, it has not been cost effective for TDS to extend broadband services the remaining two miles to Head Harbor. Customers in this area have used dial-up or satellite dishes to access the internet. Paula Greatorex is the Isle au Haut Rural School teacher and lives in Head Harbor year round. She says, “right now we have a satellite dish, and although it’s okay, it’s not as good as DSL, and I believe the cost would be less for [us to use] TDS…to have faster access would be delightful for us.”
The necessary improvements to the network will occur during the late spring of 2011. TDS will update, replace and add additional broadband equipment, in order to serve the remaining 16 homes with speeds of up to 5 mbps. After these improvements, 100 percent of the islands served by TDS will have broadband access.
The expansion of DSL service is vital to Isle au Haut’s economic development and diversification strategies. ICDC is working to attract new residents to the island through expanding affordable housing and promoting economic opportunity. Broadband internet permits residents to “telecommute” to off-island jobs while living in a remote island community. Existing high speed internet has been integral in the development of Black Dinah Chocolatiers, and may help others develop internet sales businesses.
In addition to attracting new year-round residents, the expansion of DSL will allow current seasonal residents to spend more time on Isle au Haut. Seasonal residents affected by the expansion include, a physician, an architect, two university professors, the owners of a film production company, and the CFO of a fortune 500 company. These community members may soon be able to more conveniently work from Isle au Haut.
Grady Watts, a seasonal resident of the South end of Isle au Haut, sees great economic potential in the expansion: ” … Island-wide DSL service can enliven the island economy in a variety of other ways: allowing more opportunity for telecommuting to more households, enabling more year-round and seasonal rentals, encouraging more year-round residencies and longer occupancy of property owners who can work from their Isle au Haut home internet communication is a bridge first to the mainland and then to global networks of commerce. We have not even begun to imagine the full array of opportunities this expanded service will provide to all Isle au Haut residents, year rounders as well as seasonal residents.” The ICDC/TDS ConnectME application does not exaggerate when it says that those who live on the Southern end of Isle au Haut are eagerly waiting for spring when DSL service will be expanded to their homes.
Margaret Snell is in her second year as the Island Institute Fellow on Isle au Haut.