In this July 28, 2011, file photo, a lineman installs a guy wire on a utility pole while his crew lashes fiber-optic cable on a support strand wire along River Road in Bucksport. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

After receiving grant funding through the state’s ConnectME broadband program, fiber-optic broadband installation in Bremen is almost complete, with connection to the system available to all residents.

The town’s broadband committee worked with Tidewater Telecom to install fiber-optic cables for 290 applicants who were interested, though 37 of them are still working through their installations.

Tidewater submitted a grant application for Bremen in the spring of 2020, receiving $120,000 from the ConnectME program, which is funded by a one quarter of one percent (0.25 percent) assessment on all communications, video and internet service bills and a 10 cent surcharge on all landline numbers in the state. Tidewater covered the remaining cost of $480,435 for the installation, with no cost falling on the town.

As a family-owned company, “when we invest, we’re here for the long-term,” Alan Hinsey, director of marketing, sales and communications at Tidewater, said.

The partnership with Tidewater was Bremen’s intention to “shop local” for high-speed internet, instead of going to Comcast, Matthew Hanly of the Bremen Broadband Committee said.

To qualify for the grant, most towns were required to allocate $50,000 up front for the fiber optic broadband project, but Bremen offered expertise and work on the projects instead.

Members of the broadband committee such as Sam Hafford, a former lineman for a telephone company, helped set up homeowners with conduits prepared with a string to pull the wire through during the installations.

Bremen is a “model of a great community broadband effort,” Hinsey said. “They jumped right in with solutions.”

The preparation from the broadband committee sped up installations and ensured they went smoothly, he said. Tidewater is planning to recreate the Bremen project in several other towns in the area, including Hope, Appleton and Bristol. The company has plans to build another 12 miles of fiber-optic cable in Bristol after pursuing additional grant funding.

Approximately 400 Bremen residents are eligible to have fiber-optic broadband installed, according to a study Tidewater conducted in 2021. Residents are still able to apply, but Hinsey warned they may not receive the installation for a few months because of the company’s backlog.

However, the 37 residents who are currently in the process, along with 13 customers who will return to their seasonal homes in Bremen in the spring, will be prioritized, Hinsy said, because they applied before the July 31, 2021, deadline.

“Demand is extremely high,” he said.

By the end of 2021, Tidewater will complete 1,000 new fiber-optic installations, up from 660 in 2020 because of the pivot to online learning and remote work during the pandemic.

“It’s not just about internet,” Hinsy said. “It’s about access.”

The project doesn’t stop at the installation phase. The broadband committee will hold information sessions about how to get the most out of high-speed broadband access, including telehealth and telemedicine appointments, along with work opportunities.

Virtual health care could allow people to live in their house longer instead of moving to an elderly care center, Hanly said.

It also opens up job opportunities for people who need flexible work time, such as students or parents, he added. L.L. Bean is moving its customer service online, with agents working from home, and virtual jobs like these require a certain amount of software knowledge and broadband width, Hanly said, which the broadband committee is offering Bremen residents.

This story appears through a media partnership with The Lincoln County News.