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Dec 19, 2022

Press Release: Maine Connectivity Authority Announces $1M to help Jumpstart Connectivity in Hardest-to-Reach Communities

On Monday, the MCA announced three awards totaling more than $1 million in funding through the Jumpstart Connectivity Initiative

AUGUSTA, Maine – On Monday, December 19, the Maine Connectivity Authority (MCA) announced three awards totaling more than $1 million in funding through the Jumpstart Connectivity Initiative. These projects will provide accelerated low-cost internet access to some of the least served areas of the state by trialing the deployment of various innovative wireless technologies. The program will target communities across five counties with a high concentration of unserved homes and businesses and where wired deployments are currently impractical. MCA will conduct a thorough and ongoing evaluation of the program and use the findings to identify wireless technologies that could potentially scale as a complementary component of the state’s overall connectivity strategy.

“We are excited to support these unique projects and technologies,” said Andrew Butcher, President of MCA. “These wireless projects represent one of a number of solutions that can be deployed across the state and highlight the innovation, partnerships, and new business models that can get integrated into Maine’s overall connectivity strategy. The governor has set an ambitious and bold goal to get everyone connected as soon as possible. This is one way we will achieve that goal."

The Fall 2022 Jumpstart award recipients include the following communities and providers:

Lakeville, Lee - Outer Reach Broadband ($500,000)
Greenville, Jackman, West Forks, Athens - UScellular ($369,600)
Brookton, Danforth, Orient - Wireless Partners ($180,000)

After an open RFP process in May 2022, MCA selected three different partners, technologies and operating models to evaluate where and how to incorporate wireless solutions into the State's connectivity strategy. The selected projects allow us to trial new technologies and hybrid operating models, leveraging existing infrastructure and deployment to enable speed to market. The Jumpstart projects will be funded with support from the Maine Jobs and Recovery Program and other sources and will leverage over $1 million in additional private investment. This combined funding will provide accelerated connectivity to a diversity of places, while also evaluating the overall effectiveness of different technologies and service models. The evaluation plan will review service performance, customer experience, digital equity impact, speed to market, lifecycle costs, funding implications and program integration.

The Outer Reach Broadband award includes the deployment of Tarana Wireless’ G1 radios, which represent an investment in cutting-edge, industry-leading fixed wireless technology. This network also represents one of the first deployments of the G1 series radios in the State. Outer Reach’s new technology will help deliver internet access to more than 570 homes in the towns of Lee and Lakeville. Beyond the fixed wireless network, Outer Reach’s team will also begin the planning, design and equipment testing phases to prepare Lee and Lakeville for an anticipated Fiber to the Premises (FTTP) deployment to fill in any areas that are not able to be covered by the new fixed wireless network. The transition from a fixed wireless network to FTTP will also serve as a pilot for how this process could proceed in other communities.

“Joining the Lee and Lakeville communities and partnering with the Maine Connectivity Authority is a huge thrill for us,” said Tom Kirby, President of Outer Reach Broadband. “They are special towns that will benefit from accessible high-speed internet subscriptions in exciting new ways. Our home-grown approach to connecting communities was made for Maine towns just like Lee and Lakeville, so we’re really looking forward to these new opportunities.”

The UScellular awards will include new 5G radio equipment that will utilize UScellular’s licensed 5G low-band spectrum to trial faster fixed wireless in a diversity of geographies. The new 5G equipment will be added to UScellular’s Jackman, West Forks, Greenville and Athens cell sites, which currently utilize 4G LTE technology. UScellular’s tower ownership strategy streamlines construction activities and helps ensure a rapid deployment of the new technology on our owned towers. These upgrades will enhance mobile connectivity throughout the area and provide reliable internet connectivity for more than 600 households and businesses. UScellular will also offer an exclusive home internet plan in all of Somerset and Piscataquis counties using additional tower assets that already have 5G deployed.

“We applaud the MCA for taking an innovative approach to bring access to hard-to-reach areas of Maine,” said Tabatha McKay, area vice president and general manager for UScellular in New England. “Investing in wireless technology helps ensure that people have connectivity at home, at work and virtually anywhere else. We look forward to putting this funding to work to ensure Mainers can be connected to the people and places that matter most.”

The Wireless Partners award includes an innovative use of the long-standing, but newly available, source of wireless service called Citizen's Broadcast Radio Service (CBRS). Wireless partners will upgrade existing tower sites in the Greater East Grand Lake region. They will provide internet speeds that far exceed anything previously available to the community. This new upgradeable standards-based 4G LTE-A technology will bring upgraded connections to 300 homes and businesses in a rural and hard-to-reach area that will now have access to high-speed internet less than a year after the Jumpstart Program was launched.

“Thanks to the support of MCA, this award is yet another step toward bridging the ongoing digital divide in rural communities such as the Greater East Grand Region,” said Robert Parsloe, CEO of Wireless Partners. “Over the past ten years, we have made significant private investments to deploy both cellular and standards-based broadband networks, and now, with MCA’s funding assistance, we will demonstrate the next phase of technology in the Greater East Grand Region.”

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