By Rick Bates, Town Manager, Rockport, Maine
The key to bringing real change to Maine’s sub-par Internet infrastructure is not to settle for incremental changes in the way we provide this utility. In fact, thinking on a small scale at this crucial time in Maine’s economic history would be a disastrous approach.
The truth is, a major shift s required in how our public policy leaders think about the Internet. What speeds are really necessary for Maine communities to be competitive in the world economy? In addition to world-class speed, don’t we need world-class reliability?
And a much tougher question — who should provide these services? Imagine for a minute if we asked the trucking companies to build our highways and roads. We would have excellent highways to some places, but very poor roads to those places in which the trucking companies have no interest. This of course would not be not the trucking companies’ fault. Their interest is to profitably move the most goods to the most people as quickly as possible. They would have no interest in moving few goods to where there are even fewer people. Therefore, that model would leave many parts of Maine without good roads.
In Rockport, the model we implemented was dramatically different. We now treat the “pipe” through which data on the Internet travels like any other town infrastructure, such as water and sewer. Rockport’s a small town, but we were determined to think big. We view the ultra high-speed and world-class reliability of our new fiber optic network not as a luxury, but as a necessity of life and a crucial tool for economic development.
To secure the next several decades of economy security in Maine, we can’t afford to have only pockets of world-class infrastructure scattered here and there throughout the state. Instead, we need public policy leaders in Augusta and in every Maine municipality to understand the big picture, and act accordingly. If ever we needed leadership for the health and welfare of our state, now is certainly the time.