Learning from Southport’s Community Driven Broadband Experience

By Joe Oliva, MBC

On July 14th, the Maine Broadband Coalition convened a meeting with community members from around the state to hear from Southport’s broadband committee and discuss lessons learned after the town vote that upended their five year community-driven process.This vote cost the town of Southport hundreds of thousands of dollars in funds already invested and grants successfully earned. The Coalition hosted this meeting in response to the Alliance for Quality Broadband (AQB) – a national group with strong ties to the cable companies that presents misleading information as "facts" and engages in local campaigns that reduce competition in the broadband marketplace – ramping up its campaign in communities around the state. Though Southport was its latest target, campaigns like this are gutting the hard work done by broadband committees everywhere.

Lessons learned from Southport’s experience:

  • Identify and cultivate a diverse local coalition to determine the best solution for the town.

  • Keep local officials (select board members, town administrators, etc.) actively engaged and in-the-loop on progress made by broadband committees and key decision points.

  • Create and maintain active lines of communication with the broader community. Literature, email blasts, and local press are important tools for keeping people informed.

Effective community engagement is built on transparency, integrity, and trusted relationships.

Community members learned some hard lessons and the MBC is working on tools to help your project move forward despite this kind of attack. As with every aspect of the MBC, our work is only as powerful as the community voices contributing to it. We look forward to working together closely with our partners to devise the best course of action in response to AQB.

If you start to notice divisive broadband messaging in your community, please reach out to us at connect@mainebroadbandcoalition.org. Tracking and responding to these campaigns early will be an advantage to communities.

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