EASTON, Maine — All residents of a small Aroostook County town will be connected to the internet this spring.
The town of 1,320 people has signed an agreement with Spectrum, run by Charter Communications, to provide service to 128 households that aren’t connected to the web.
Easton will be a rare example of a small Aroostook town that has 100 percent of residents connected. One in four Aroostook County homes don’t have reliable high-speed internet, according to a survey spearheaded by the Aroostook County Commissioners and the business group Aroostook Partnership. Easton saw high demand for broadband before the pandemic, but the need intensified when droves of out-of-staters moved in, town officials said.
“During COVID, Easton became a haven for people from New Jersey, Alabama, Connecticut,” Easton Town Manager Jim Gardner said. “They’re all moving into Easton, small-town USA.”
Two major industries dominate the town: Huber Engineered Woods and McCain Foods. But many newcomers want to work from home in other industries, Gardner said. Without access to the internet, they’re stuck.
Throughout Maine, rural communities have struggled with lack of broadband. Demand exploded during the pandemic as students studied online and telemedicine became a household word. A group of Piscataquis County towns banded together last year to tackle the issue, and Caribou is studying two plans.
Rounds of state and federal funding have aimed to fill the holes in broadband access. In July Gov. Janet Mills announced the state would receive $100 million to expand high-speed internet throughout Mane.
Last August, Easton signed an agreement with Spectrum to expand the buildout of broadband service to its remaining unconnected homes.
Easton is acquiring permits to install poles, and workers will start running strands of high-speed cable in April or May at the latest, Gardner said.
The project will cost approximately $730,000. Along with a $300,000 grant from Aroostook County’s American Rescue Plan Act funds and a $275,000 contribution from Spectrum, which Easton will not have to pay back, the town will use money from its own rescue plan funds to make up the difference.
The expansion project uses no local taxpayer money, Gardner said.
Broadband access will make a huge difference because it will open up service to everyone on the east side of Route 1A, he said.
Some homes near the Canadian border formerly had satellite internet provider HughesNet, but the service wasn’t great and people had better connections with mobile hotspots.
Other projects on Easton’s plate include a subdivision of 18 lots for small business or housing developments, moving the town office from 3 Station Road to 80 Center Road, next to Country Farms Market, and $279,500 in renovations to Prestile Park.
Having an internet solution makes Gardner happy. He wrote the grant the town received from the County.
“I have been writing grants for 25 years and I am not successful all the time, but I don’t lose all the time either,” Gardner said. “It’s like rolling the dice, right? Sometimes you roll sevens and sometimes you roll snake-eyes.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the amount of Spectrum’s contribution.