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Will Rockport, Maine Show Us the Way to Better Internet Access?

August 19, 2014

Will Rockport, Maine Show Us the Way to Better Internet Access?

By Steve Anderson
Contributing TMCnet Writer

For those not familiar with Rockport, Maine, there's likely a good reason. The town has a population of just 3,321, and that means that, when the local high school students graduate, the first thought is likely, “Where should I go?” And the first answer that comes to mind is likely, “Not Rockport.” But one person—Meg Weston of Maine Media Workshops + College, one of Rockport's biggest economic powers—realized that there was one way to keep the students in town, according to a report from “The Day,” and that was with really good Internet access.

Meg Weston, after becoming president of Maine Media Workshops + College, discovered that the college wouldn't be able to survive long without a proper Internet connection, and with good reason. The students frequently dealt with large media files, which required both high speed and high bandwidth to properly transfer from one user to another. It didn't take long for the school to start slamming into the wall, so to speak, and the town's connection wasn't up to par either. Private companies, meanwhile, were set to charge sums for a solution that were well out of the college's budget, so what was left?

What was left was for Rockport to do what Google (News - Alert) was looking to do, and what cities and towns across America are looking to do: open a gigabit-scale municipal fiber networks. With this powerful new network, the college can not only accommodate its current students' needs, but it can also open its doors to remote students, which can improve revenue further. It's even become worthwhile to stick around Rockport after graduation, because the new connectivity allows users to take advantage of opportunities in other locations.

The costs involved with such a system were substantial, of course; around $60,000 went into building the infrastructure in Rockport, while the town-owned network was connected to a larger, statewide fiber network known as the Three Ring Binder. It was built at a cost of nearly $32 million, $25 million in federal stimulus funding and $7 million in private investment.  While this doesn't force out the local competitors, it does, however, open up access to others to step in and compete, meaning that issues of local monopolies are largely at an end. For instance, GWI stepped in to take advantage of the offer in Rockport, offering service for $70 a month.

That's a development that may well have some cable companies unnerved. Already challenged by the rise of Google Fiber, local developments may well ultimately do still more damage to current companies as more users tire of less-than-quality service—Ryan Block and Tim Davis, not to mention a growing subreddit community can attest to that much—and high prices for said service. But for customers, this is excellent news. $70 a month may seem a bit on the high side, but for gigabit service without a bandwidth cap, many would likely gladly sign up.  That's going to leave companies like Comcast and AT&T (News - Alert) in a position where either the price will have to come down or the service will have to improve—something that many of the companies in question have been seen doing previously—just to keep up.

It's a great development for consumers, and one that might catch on. With a growing number of users demanding more and more bandwidth, the end result is likely to be one where users' demands will have to be taken seriously, or else competition will be found.

Edited by Alisen Downey
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