East Grand Lake region to receive community broadband planning grant

HOULTON, Maine — The towns in the area surrounding East Grand Lake in southern Aroostook County and northern Washington County have received a community broadband planning grant from ConnectMaine Authority, a state agency tasked with improving public access to broadband service. 

“Connectivity is part of the future,” said Dwayne Young, administrator for Weston, which is one of the towns that forms a part of the region. “Whether you’re in the middle of nowhere so to speak, as we are, or in the downtown city, there has to be connectivity in everything that takes place in today’s life.” 

The region was one of four areas in Maine to receive the planning grant, alongside Swans Island, Litchfield and Sanford. In addition to the planning grants, larger infrastructure grants were also announced to three other communities in the state — Argyle, Bremen and Hudson. 

The grant amount requested by the East Grand Lake towns was $10,000, which will be matched by the region, bringing the total funding for broadband development to $20,000. 

Though a service provider has not been selected yet, Houlton-based Pioneer Broadband has been brought on as a consultant for applying the grant funds. 

The area covered by the grant begins in the Aroostook County town of Amity, and stretches to the Washington County town of Topsfield. 

The need for rural areas such as the East Grand Lake Region to have reliable internet access has become more apparent to the towns in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. With classrooms forced to switch to remote online learning, broadband access has come to be seen as an essential service.

 For the East Grand School district, some students did not have proper internet access, while others who did had to rely on hot spots from their cell phones. 

“That was kind of the thing, in light of the coronavirus, with everything shut down and everything going remote, we just found that this is much more important than people might have thought,” Young said.

“The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the importance of a good high-speed connection for remote work, and supporting small businesses,” Gov. Janet Mills said in the announcement. “One of the highest priorities of my administration is to expand our state’s broadband infrastructure. These grants from ConnectMaine are a step in that direction by leveraging local and private investment to bring high-speed connectivity to these communities.”

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