APPLETON — People in Appleton are fed up with the broadband issue at the town’s board meeting on Sept. 13, throwing scathing criticism into the Consolidated Communications Company, while a spokesperson for the rival company offered hope for the future.
Tidewater’s director of marketing and sales, Alan Hennessy, said the Maine Communications Authority is preparing to provide $150 million in grants — possibly as high as $300 million — to help provide and improve Internet service for communities. Hinsey was invited to address the board by member Peter Beckett, who also serves on the city’s Broadband Commission. Tidewater provides fiber optic internet to many homes in the city.
Appleton earlier this year committed $66,000 to add to the Tidewater grant that Tidewater sought to obtain Appleton promotions from the authority’s predecessor, ConnectMe. It was intended to provide a service to families who had not yet been constrained. However, Tidewater’s request – a first for the Maine-based company, was denied, Hinsey said.
That left Appleton’s 44 homes not yet upgraded with Tidewater fiber-optic internet without or often with miserable service, according to those who addressed the meeting in person or via emails. The service was not initially offered to some homes due to the cost of access to some areas. These are the people Tidewater is seeking to connect with, mostly with another round of federal funding.
But some of the other town provider’s clients have spoken in person and in emails to the board of directors about what they described as Consolidated Communications’ miserable internet, television, and phone service. One described her flawed service as a “life or death” matter.
The council discussion took place as city broadband committees from Appleton and Hope prepare for a joint meeting on Thursday, September 22 at 5 p.m. at the Hope Town office, 441 Camden Street.
After hearing widespread horror stories from the public and reading four emails from unhappy residents, Board Chair Laurie Costigan suggested that the town was stuck in the middle and blamed on something it had no control over.
“I must say as chair that I am a little concerned that they seem to have thought that we voted on anything other than affirmative in support of the grant last time, or that there seemed to be an understanding…or the Internet’s thought process is something that we, the elected body, are regulating. or submit it.
Describing the situation as “a bit tricky in my mind,” she took the opportunity to clear up misconceptions that might be among residents about the role of the town of Appleton’s Select Board, particularly with regard to the question of Tidewater, which had not received grant funding earlier in the year.
“People think it was a municipal decision,” Costigan said. “I want to make it clear that this council has no role.”
It’s as if she’s hitting the point at home, and later back in the meeting to the same topic. “To reiterate,” Costigan said, “this board approved Tidewater’s grant application earlier in the year and offered a portion of ARPA (Federal) funding to assist in that grant application and Tidewater failed to receive that grant from ConnectMe. So, it was the only action that So far taken by this board is to approve the grant request… and that request has been denied.”
She also emphasized the fact that the broadband industry has little or no oversight. “It’s a very important point,” she said. “The Internet is not considered a utility … there is no higher authority for accountability,”
Costigan lobbied Hennessy to publicly state the positive role that Appleton has played in the amount of internet connectivity the city actually plays. All but 44 of the homes have services, according to Hennessy.
He replied that Appleton was “very supportive”.
He said Tidewater is ready to apply in the new round of grant funding when the guidelines are available. He expects the first round to begin in October, and he said the money for the company’s hopeful Appleton project will likely be part of a $20 million federal funding pool dedicated just to the kind of situation that 44 families are in.
He added that there will be a new wrinkle in the way things are done: Private companies will participate in the so-called “line extension” financing category.
“It’s brand new,” Hennessy said. “We will request requests for quotations (RFQs) from any provider who is willing to participate and can provide an extension of the clause. Once they have qualified, they enter their proposals and it becomes a negotiating process. This has not been done before,” he added, adding that the new approach could lead to cost savings.
Whatever the outcome, resentful residents of Consolidated Communications weren’t shy about saying it, with some also throwing barbs at the city commission’s proposal to spend federal Covid-related funding not on broadband relief but on a place to store funeral ashes in the cemetery while still Some residents have internet problems.
Redmond was read to Resident Scott and three other emails to the board of directors on record by Costigan.
Redmond listed a frustrating set of issues with his provider, which he said will only get worse once his children start using the internet for school.
“This has been an ongoing issue with Consolidated for the past 10 years or so,” he said in his neighborhood, adding, “Because the rest of the community in Appleton has fiber-optic internet access, it is fair to offer it to everyone else.”
Bob Boko agreed when he wrote about internet access for everyone: “In my opinion, that has a much higher priority than the cleanliness of the place for the ashes of love in Pine Grove (cemetery)…helping those who still lack access must take internet speed priority. I would go so far as to say it is a modern necessity of life.”
Beth Linscott’s email about broadband service reads in part, “When did we only start offering opportunities to some residents but not others depending on which end of town you live in or who your way. Embarrassing you.”
And from Susan White there was this plea: “My husband’s heart monitor requires DSL to record his pacemaker…so this is really a life or death matter.”
Her email continued: “We have to shut down everything just to watch TV. I can’t get music. I’ve been left out of closeout meetings, I’ve missed deadlines… It’s just crazy and they (united) really don’t care. They stripped that company to the bone. I’m just by my side.”
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