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Jun 11, 2024

Wilton awarded with certificate and title of ‘Gig Town’

A ribbon cutting ceremony took place at Bass Park on Thursday with members of the Wilton Select Board and representatives from CCI and MCA.

WILTON — Members of the Wilton Select Board and town residents joined Town Manager Maria Greeley and representatives from Consolidated Communications Inc. and Maine Connectivity Authority on Thursday, June 6, at Bass Park in Wilton for a ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the town’s status as a “Gig Town”.

The title is awarded by CCI to communities with broad access to multi-gigabit fiber internet for residents and businesses. Simon Thorne, senior manager of governmental affairs for CCI, and Kendra Jo Grindle, senior manager, community and regional partnerships for MCA, were in attendance along with Select Board member Tiffany Maiuri, David Leavitt, and Keith Swett.

“With more than 3,000 homes and businesses now able to access multi-gig internet speeds from Fidium Fiber, Wilton can benefit from the economic, educational, employment and entertainment benefits that accompany better internet access,” the company shared in a press release, though Thorne shared at the event that the town is not quite at 100% full coverage, but it’s “very close.”

“We’re looking forward to keeping this service within the community for many, many years to come,” Thorne shared, “and eventually scaling it to a 10-gig network, which is kind of laughable today, but one day.”

Thorne added to his statement by sharing how broadband services affect housing and rental costs, with marginal increases based on access to fiber optic high-speed internet. He also stated that more adults are using broadband to work from home.

“60% of adults report they spent at least one day of the week working from home, which they need broadband for,” Thorne stated, “and I’m one of those.”

The ribbon cutting ceremony comes a victory lap after seven years of municipal efforts to bring reliable, high-speed broadband internet to the town of Wilton.

Starting in 2017 with the formation of Franklin County Broadband Initiative, the group consisted of members from the Opportunity Center of North Franklin County, the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments, the Greater Franklin Development Council and the Rangeley Economic Opportunity Committee and its purpose was to use state funds along with an additional $43,000 raised by local municipalities to fund a six-month comprehensive review of current broadband access across all 22 Franklin County towns.

Charlie Woodworth of the Greater Franklin Development Council, who spearheaded the initiative, shared with the Morning Sentinel in 2017 that there was big turnout of “educators, businesses, students and parents” with many of them sharing stories of parents having to drive into town to their local library to just give their children internet access to do their homework.

The onset of the pandemic exacerbated many of these issues with schools having to adapt to an online curriculum and students having to complete their coursework remotely, something that was not feasible for many families.

In an interview with the Sun Journal in 2021, Woodworth shared 30% of students in the RSU 9 school district could not do their homework from home due to lack of service.

In November of 2022, former town manager Perry Ellsworth began working Matrix Design Group to bring in broadband service to the town of Wilton through a grant program with MCA. However, the project failed to gain a 50% market share in the town and fell through one year later in November of 2023.

However, at a select board meeting in February, Brian Lippold of Casco Bay Advisors LLC shared with the Select Board that CCI and MCA had worked out an arrangement to carry on the grant and continue the project.

“With this new agreement, 100% of the residents of Wilton will have access to a new fiber optic network that CCI is deploying,” Lippold stated at the meeting, adding that no additional cost will come to the town.

Following that, Woodworth appeared at a select board meeting in March to share that roughly 98% of Franklin County would be seeing broadband coverage by the summer. He added the next goal would be working on building on digital skills training.

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