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Residents and Business Owners Must Unite to Ensure Broadband Internet Access

OXFORD COUNTY—A partnership of local and regional organizations is launching a series of public meetings to help mobilize citizen action to expand the accessibility and availability of broadband internet in Oxford County.

Basic infrastructure already exists to bring state of the art broadband internet capacity to the Bethel area and River Valley towns, but it is being underutilized. It will take an organized, concerted effort by residents and businesses to create the “last mile” infrastructure that will make the existing fiber optic cable network known as the Three Ring Binder available to local areas.

It is also necessary to overcome barriers to Internet access that exist at the individual and community levels in Oxford County. We must ensure that residents are proficient in internet use and have access to computers and other devices to get on the Web. High quality internet access must also be affordable.

“It will take all of us to get better service, and we will get better service together,” said Mia Purcell, economic development program coordinator at Community Concepts Finance Corporation, who is helping to organize the public meetings. “We must work together to make it happen.”

Many innovative technologies require the faster connections that broadband offers. The bandwidth capacity and requirements for broadband will soon edge out traditional DSL networks, raising questions that will be discussed at the upcoming meetings, such as, “What role should broadband play in the area’s future, and what is needed to ensure that we have greater and more reliable capacity for internet traffic?”

Currently, Oxford County falls behind national and state averages for the number of homes and businesses with Internet service. Download and upload speeds are also below average for Maine and nationally.

The series of upcoming meetings beginning Jan. 25 in Bethel will educate residents on the current situation with regard to Internet access and usage in Oxford County. The meetings seek input from residents and business owners on how existing service meets their needs and what role broadband should play in the area’s future.

The public meetings will help lay the foundation for a grant application aimed at providing funds to expand broadband availability and Internet accessibility in the Bethel area, River Valley and Oxford Hills.

The effort to expand broadband in Oxford County is being spearheaded by Maine West, a collaboration of local and regional organizations dedicated to addressing systemic rural challenges. Local partners include Community Concepts Finance Corp., Oxford County Wellness Collaborative, Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce, Mahoosuc Pathways, Bethel Area Nonprofit Collaborative, Mahoosuc Land Trust, University Centers at Rumford and Norway/South Paris, Bryant Pond 4-H Camp, and Western Foothills Land Trust.

Community Concepts Finance Corporation helps underserved individuals and businesses in Maine meet their financial goals through residential and business lending, homebuyer training, and foreclosure counseling. CCFC also focuses on economic development in Oxford County.

Maine West is a partnership of local and regional organizations dedicated to addressing systemic rural challenges and enhancing community well-being in western Maine through increased collaboration across the economic, education, health and conservation sectors.