APPLETON — Weary Appleton folks spoke out on the broadband issue at the city’s September 13 board meeting, hurling vitriol at provider Consolidated Communications Company, while a spokesperson for a rival offered hope for the future.
Tidewater marketing and sales manager Alan Hinsey said the Maine Connectivity Authority is preparing to award $150 million in grants — possibly up to $300 million — to help provide and improve the Internet service to communities. Hinsey was invited to address the board by member Peter Beckett, who also sits on the city’s broadband committee. Tidewater provides fiber optic internet service to many homes in the city.
Appleton earlier this year set aside $66,000 to add to a grant Tidewater requested for Appleton upgrades from the authority’s predecessor, ConnectMe. This was to provide services to households that were not yet connected. Tidewater’s request was denied, however — a first for the Maine-based company, Hinsey said.
That left the 44 Appleton homes not yet upgraded with Tidewater fiber optic internet still without service or with often miserable service, according to those who addressed the meeting in person or by email. Initially, service was not provided to some homes due to the cost of accessing certain areas. These are the people Tidewater seeks to connect through another round of funding, mostly federal.
But some customers of the city’s other provider spoke in person and emailed the board about what they described as miserable Consolidated Communications internet, TV and phone service. One called his flawed service “life or death”.
The council discussion came as the Appleton and Hope Municipal Broadband Committees prepare for a joint meeting on Thursday, September 22 at 5 p.m. at the Hope Municipal Office, 441 Camden St.
After hearing broadband horror stories from the public and reading four emails from disgruntled residents, Board Chair Lorie Costigan suggested the city is caught in the middle and blamed for something. over which she has no control.
“I have to say as chair that I’m a little concerned that they seem to have thought we voted on something other than yes to support the grant last time, or that there seems to be an understanding… or a thought process that the Internet is something that we, the elected body, regulate or provide.
Calling the situation “a little tricky in my mind,” she took the opportunity to clarify what might be misconceptions among residents about the role the City of Appleton and its Board of Directors play, in particularly on the issue of Tidewater not receiving a grant earlier in the year.
“People think it was a municipal decision,” Costigan said. “I want to make it clear that this advice had no implications.”
And as if to drive the point home, she then returned later in the meeting on the same theme. “To reiterate,” Costigan said, “this board approved a grant application that was made by Tidewater earlier in the year and offered a portion of its (federal) ARPA funding to assist with this grant application and Tidewater did not receive this grant from ConnectMe.. So the only action this board has taken so far has been to approve a grant application…and that application has been denied.
She also pointed to the fact that the broadband industry is under little or no scrutiny. “It’s a very important point,” she said. “The Internet is not considered a public service…there is no higher authority for accountability”,
And Costigan pressed Hinsey to publicly state the positive role Appleton has played in the amount of internet connectivity the city actually has. All but 44 homes have service, according to Hinsey.
Appleton, he replied, was “very supportive”.
He said Tidewater is ready to apply in the new grant round when the guidelines are available. He expects the first round to begin in October and said the money for the Appleton project the company is hoping for will most likely be part of a $20 million federal funding pool designated for the genre. situation experienced by the 44 households.
And there will be a new wrinkle in the way things are done, he added: private companies will be involved in what is called the “line extension” funding category.
“It’s brand new,” Hinsey said. “We will request RFQs (Request for Quote) from any supplier who wishes to participate and can provide a line extension. Once they are qualified, they submit their proposals and it becomes a negotiated process. This has never been done before,” he said, adding that the new approach could lead to cost savings.
Whatever the outcome, disgruntled locals at Consolidated Communications weren’t shy about saying it, with a few also throwing barbs at a city committee’s proposal to spend federal Covid-related funding not on relief for the broadband, but for a place to store the funeral ashes at the cemetery while some residents still have problems with the Internet.
Resident Scott’s Redmond and three other emails to the board were read from the record by Costigan.
Redmond has listed a litany of frustrating issues with his provider, which he says will only get worse once his kids start using the internet at school.
In his neighborhood he said, “This has been an ongoing issue with Consolidated for the past 10 or so years,” adding, “Seeing that the rest of the Appleton community has fiber optic internet access, it’s just to offer it to everyone. other.”
Bob Bocko agreed when he wrote about Internet access for all: “In my opinion, this has a much higher priority than the beauty of a place where the ashes of the lover will be kept in Pine Grove. (cemetery)… helping those who still do not have access to high quality services. broadband internet should have priority. I would go so far as to say it is a necessity of modern life.
Beth Linscott’s broadband email said in part: ‘When did we start offering opportunities only to some residents but not to others depending on what end of town you live in or who is on your way. Shame on you.”
And from Susan White, there was this call: “My husband’s heart monitor needs the DSL to register his pacemaker… So it really is a matter of life and death.”
Her email continued, “We have to turn everything off just to watch TV. I can’t get any music. I get kicked out of zoom meetings, missed deadlines…it’s just crazy and they (Consolidated) really don’t care. They stripped this company to the bone. I’m just beside myself.
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