Fiber connections bring broadband internet to businesses and households in Down East Maine. Credit: Courtesy of the Downeast Broadband Utility

On any given day, you might see a car parked after hours outside the Brooksville Free Public Library with someone in it trying to send a crucial email or download a massive file. It’s one of the few places in the rural Hancock County town that has reliable internet.

Resident Abbie McMillen has found herself in this situation many times, attempting to balance her laptop in her front seat while on a Zoom call.

“It’s pretty awkward,” she said. “I can never get the angles right.”

Doctors in town have complained they can’t participate in telehealth, professors say they can’t teach remotely during COVID-19 and editors fear their work won’t go through due to the spotty service.

Their prayers and similar ones echoed around the Blue Hill peninsula may finally be answered. On Friday, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced it awarded Maine $28 million to bring fast, affordable internet to more than 11,000 households across the state.

The federal funds, given to the ConnectMaine Authority, will go toward bringing a fiber connection to unserved parts of Penobscot, Sedgwick, Brooklin, Brooksville, Castine, Deer Isle and a small portion of Stonington, as well as projects in Franklin, Knox and Lincoln counties. In all, 24 municipalities and nearly 15,000 Mainers will benefit, according to officials.

“It’s basically a huge Christmas present, just a little late,” said Butler Smythe, an organizer behind Peninsula Utility for Broadband, a group that has been pushing for better internet for the Blue Hill peninsula.

Getting broadband to Hancock County has been a priority for local leaders and Gov. Janet Mills has pledged to get every person in Maine reliable internet access by 2024.

It’s expected about $11 million of the funds will go toward beefing up Consolidated Communications service to the peninsula, allowing almost all residents there to connect to the internet at no cost to the towns, according to Smythe.

If the award hadn’t come through, the peninsula towns were expecting to pay millions of dollars to work with the company to build a fiber optic network, according to a report from January.

Smythe anticipated that work could start this spring or summer and take about a year to finish.

Proponents said getting broadband to the peninsula could make it easier for people to live and work there, and probably cut out some of those late night trips to the Brooksville library parking lot.

“After this all goes through, we should be up into almost the 21st century,” McMillen said.