CAMBRIDGE — A group of concerned Cambridge residents approached Christian Savage in the spring of 2019 about their poor broadband connection.
Among them was Lynda Gunther, whose $100-a-month internet and phone service was so unreliable she could not work from home.
“I could not deal with it anymore, the frustration was way too high,” Gunther said.
She felt the town needed better internet “desperately,” so she and others turned to Savage, executive director of the Somerset Economic Development Corp.
One major obstacle for getting the town help? Without good internet and cellphone service it was difficult to communicate with Cambridge residents to even address the problem.
“It was a really telling example of how important it was,” said Savage. “Communicating with people in the town of Cambridge was hard.”
Somerset County’s rural, sparse population does not naturally interest major internet service providers.
“We just don’t have that population density to support state-of-the-art infrastructure,” Savage said. “Most service providers have a hard time justifying spending a lot of money on high-speed internet when there are 3 miles between each property.”
Savage scheduled a meeting with residents, ConnectMaine, the Maine agency created to enhance broadband service in Maine, and internet provider Premium Choice Broadband. A couple weeks later, an internet plan was in place. Ultimately, Somerset Economic Development Corp. helped Premium Choice get a $200,000 ConnectMaine infrastructure grant to help expand the network, with the town, county and Premium Choice putting in another $450,000.
By the end of 2020, the project offered Cambridge — population around 500 — the potential for 263 households and businesses high-speed internet. So far, 61 have connected. The entire process took less than two years from start to finish.
Gunther got her connection in early December. She says her phone is constantly ringing off the hook with thanks from her neighbors.
To boot, Gunther is paying less for internet than she was before. She says she had been paying a little over $100 a month for her spotty internet service that offered 30 minutes of long distance calling per month before extra charges kicked in. She’s now paying $66.83 for high-speed internet with unlimited calling.
“A lot of these projects cannot happen without community champions, and Lynda was all of that,” Savage said. “She was the one who started this and it never would’ve been completed without her.”
Savage said Somerset Economic Development Corp. is working on a countywide feasibility study to plan for more fiber optics across the region. With field data, the corporation can price out costs for individual towns. The study will be completed in late spring this year. Data from the study will be presented to each town with the goal of allowing town leaders the ability to create a plan for reliable broadband.