OAKLAND — Businesses and residents in Oakland will have until the end of October to chime in about their internet service, for better or worse, as the town looks to make improvements.

The Oakland Broadband and Technology Committee is launching a community survey this week to round out research it has been conducting since the beginning of the year. Early in 2019, the town was awarded a $15,000 grant from the Maine Community Foundation to explore the expansion of its broadband infrastructure. The grant does not cover the costs of building that infrastructure.

(The survey) is really a critically important element for us within this project, as the existing broadband data (for Oakland) …  is not great, and it’s just very broad,” said Garvan Donegan, director of planning and economic development with the Central Maine Growth Council. “(We want) to be data-driven in both the assessment of what the broadband structure looks like in Oakland, but also in the decision-making in any forthcoming project or build-out.”

Since the town received grant funds for researching its broadband structure, Donegan noted that he and the Broadband and Technology Committee have mapped out and analyzed the existing infrastructure and “identified municipally owned fiber, including where and how that comes in and out of the community.” The survey, he said, will help Oakland identify what businesses and residents are interested in when it comes to internet service going forward. The results will also help the town become more competitive for state, federal and philanthropic funding opportunities to make those visions a reality.

The survey asks respondents to provide basic demographics, report their download and upload speeds, discuss the reliability of their current internet providers, note what they’d like to use internet for (for instance, streaming videos, checking emails, conducting business, etc.) and whether their internet access is bundled with another service like telephone or cable television. One section also brings up retention.

“(That refers to) the importance of internet service in the decision of where to locate a business or your home,” Donegan explained. “Would you stay longer in the spring, summer or fall if you had better internet access?”

Oakland’s downtown area has already been targeted as an area of interest for improvement over the course of this project. The town owns a fiber optic network that offers better and quicker service to municipal buildings and the local schools, but does not effectively serve the smattering of businesses downtown and does not reach many residences. That patchwork fiber system was installed in 2007 with a federal grant.

Jayne Roberge, owner of Spectrum Property Management on 58 Main St., said her employees connect to the internet through Ethernet cables because the WiFi that is available is too slow. Roberge’s business is one of many that would benefit from a downtown broadband infrastructure project. Morning Sentinel photo by Meg Robbins

Jayne Roberge, who owns Spectrum Property Management at 58 Main St., said that she and her employees connect to the internet through Ethernet cables because the WiFi that is available is too slow.

“If we relied on just WiFi, we’d never do any business,” Roberge, who has been in the Main Street building since 2009, noted. “85% of our (property) owners want to receive emails. They don’t want to be bothered with a phone call from us. They’d rather log onto the portal later in the evening and answer any questions. … The faster I can move reports to the portal or deposit funds in an account, the better.”

Her provider is Spectrum, which is not related to her business name, she pointed out, and is the only viable option in town, she said. While Roberge acknowledged that “it is what it is,” she said she would welcome an improvement to the town’s infrastructure.

“My hope is that they take advantage of any money to upgrade the system,” she said. “To have fiber optics would be fantastic.”

Dave Houston, an employee at Mathieu’s Cycle and Fitness Store, agreed. He ran a scan of the shop’s download speed Wednesday afternoon, which yielded a result of 112 megabits per second. Mathieu’s also uses Spectrum.

“We pay for 100 mbps, so I guess I can’t complain,” Houston said. “But has anyone said that they’re satisfied with their internet speed?

“It isn’t even what I’d call spotty,” he said. “We have had problems, but it was a bad wire from the street to the building, and we worked with Spectrum to replace that. They were very good.”

Still, any threat to the internet service would bear serious consequences for the business, which has been at 20 Main St. for 25 years, according to Houston.

“Our single point of failure in our business is if the internet is down,” Houston said. “The cash register, inventory and service are all web-based. If (the internet) shuts down, I lose that. So it’s important to have good service.”

While Donegan said he has a “really good idea” of the cost of a broadband expansion project in Oakland, he said he wants to “hold off on disseminating that right now.” But by the end of December, he noted, the group hopes to provide the community with more answers.

“Some of the project questions … we will have answered (include): Where is the backbone fiber? Can we extend the existing networks along Main Street?  Does it need to be laid under the street or externally? What is the budget to extend broadband into the downtown district? What is the best finance structure?”Donegan noted. “From there, it will be up to the Town Council to use this report to inform decision-making about a potential build-out or a potential next step, whether it’s a state or federal funding opportunity.”

The survey is accessible online at the town’s website or at centralmaine.org/broadband. Hard copies are available upon request.

“We will go out and meet with a business as well, if that is easier,” Donegan added. The survey closes on Oct. 31.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.