After six years of serving on the Camden Select Board, it’s refreshing to be outside of the Select Board “bubble.” Watching the meetings — and I watch all of them — from afar reminds me of goals I had while on the board. Often the day-to-day issues become so overwhelming you get stuck in a bubble and lose some perspective.

Let me begin with a story. Many years ago, a friend called me and said, “The local community college is offering a class on computers for people that want to learn about them and perhaps buy one.” So, we signed up and took the class. All those many years ago, CPM was the computer language in use for those new “personal computers.” But there was this new company named Microsoft that had just introduced a new computer language — MS-DOS — for the brand-new IBM personal computer.
In conclusion, at the end of the class the instructor said, “Everything you want to do on a computer you can do on a CPM machine. You don’t need to spend the extra money to get that new IBM computer.”

I’ve known people to make faulty recommendations and conclusions over the years but that was about as wrong an assumption as I’ve ever seen.

I went out and purchased a CPM machine and in six months it was a brick.

Through much experience since then, I’ve learned we may think we’re at the peak of technology and we’re happy to be where we are and can’t imagine wanting or needing any improvements.

I was so advanced and thrilled with my Blackberry back in the day — I was at the forefront of phone technology. Ah yes, for years now my last Blackberry model has been a brick. My son still laughs at me for not wanting to upgrade until it was so obvious I was so far at the back of the technology line I couldn’t even see the front of the line.

Which brings me to today.

I watched the current Camden Select Board’s recent priorities meeting and was dismayed to see they decided to downgrade the importance of upgrading internet services to the citizens of Camden.

For the six years I served on the Camden Select Board, one of my top priorities was to expand high speed fiber internet throughout the entire town. Years back, I started meeting with a group of citizens from Camden and Rockport along with a member of the Rockport Select Board to discuss how we could help bring high speed fiber internet to the residents of both towns.

We started the Midcoast Internet Coalition along with many other towns in the region. Our mission was “cheaper, better, faster.” As more towns joined in the discussion, we started to hear from the commercial fiber companies, whom we invited to join the conversation.

Our goal? Have a municipal regional utility that builds a fiber optic network to all premises in our region and then leases the opportunity to service all the customers to the most competitive service company.

One company attended one of our meetings and said, basically, “You don’t need to work that hard to build the network. We’d be glad to come in and do it for you.”

I specifically asked, “Will you build it to all the locations we’re planning to?” The reply? “Well, no, we’ll build it where it fits in with our profit projections.”

The difference? Our nonprofit municipal coalition wanted to provide the ability to have fiber at every possible location. The commercial companies only want to build the network to locations where they’re guaranteed profits.

Camden and Rockport first — then joined by other towns — formed the Midcoast Internet Development Corporation to further our goal of “cheaper, better, faster” internet.

We all observed during COVID jobs, medical services, and especially education, used the internet to keep functioning. The schools had to provide phone hotspots to students who didn’t have home internet so they could continue their schooling.

I learned those many years ago even if we think we are now at the peak of technology with our cable internet, the future of fiber will bring so much more opportunity to our homes.

And I believe everyone should be invited to that party, not just those that can afford to pay big bucks for the opportunity to move forward.

But there are a couple of problems. You very possibly have seen ads in Facebook from the “Alliance for Quality Broadband Maine” in your feed recently. Saying, basically, “Don’t let your community be the next victim of a costly and unnecessary government-owned network.”

Why are they running these ads? Because there are now federal and state funds available to help extend internet and fiber services to places that need them. The “Alliance,” a representative of the corporate internet companies, wants that money. Already in some instances Maine towns that have received funds to build out internet services have just turned it over to those corporations.

They do build out the networks somewhat but there are three problems. One, the corporations now own the network — not the towns, not the communities, not the people. Two, the internet speed they say is satisfactory is “yesterday’s” speed. Three, there are no controls on what they can charge — they own the network as a monopoly. A bad deal for the people.

They won’t get the internet speed they will need in the future, and they’ll be charged too much for too little. The corporations don’t treat fiber internet as an essential service — they see it as a higher profit source. They don’t want to compete with other suppliers to service a municipal network.

They continue to run these fake news ads saying municipal networks don’t work.

Really?

Perhaps they don’t work for the corporate profit centers, but they sure work for the people.

Islesboro did it. They founded Islesboro Municipal Broadband. And it’s cheaper, better, faster. Check their website: townofislesboro.com/committees/islesboro-municipal-broadband/.

Here’s what you’ll see to start off: “The Islesboro Municipal Broadband (IMB) provides every home and business on the island with the option to have 1-gigabit state-of-the-art fiber-to-the-premise broadband Internet access. Subscribers, who choose, pay a $370 yearly subscriber fee. If you are not connected and want to be, contact the Town Office at (207) 734-2253 or email to IMB@townofislesboro.com.

There are many benefits to being a subscriber. Primarily, you will enjoy affordable mainland-like internet access that really supports our unique Islesboro way of life: Nurtures connections with off-island family, friends, business associates; supports on-island internet-dependent small business opportunities; connects islanders to off-island businesses and e-commerce; provides modern educational opportunities for young and old; enables in-home telemedicine; and connects islanders with news, entertainment, and information about the outside world.”

There are also some other issues I’ve been thinking of I wish I was hearing more of from the current board.

Here’s one: This past meeting there was a lot of back and forth about whether it made sense for the Camden Fire Department to purchase an electric vehicle — a pickup truck to replace one that they’ve used for more than 10 years. The discussion was all about whether this particular electric vehicle would be a dependable replacement for the old gas version the department has now.

This discussion went on for maybe 30 minutes and eventually the vote was for buying the new electric vehicle by a 3-2 margin. But to my ears this was a discussion in a bubble. Even after our fire chief joined the discussion and said the vehicle had been vetted and will be a dependable vehicle and appropriate for its usage by the town, at no point did anyone discuss WHY we should, and thankfully ARE, buying an electric vehicle.

For the six years I was on the board, I made it a priority to think about the future and where we’re going — not just about “right now.” That’s why I championed our Camden solar farm and our energy and money saving LED streetlights. From day one I was concerned with sea rise and how that will impact our town’s harbor. Camden became the first town in Maine to join the Global Covenant of Mayors — a worldwide association that is working to fight global warming.

That’s why we’re buying an electric truck for our fire department — to show Camden continues to lead the way in thinking about the future for our town, our citizens, and the world beyond. A few years ago, we progressively purchased a just released hybrid cruiser to see how it would work for the Camden police department and it’s working well.

C’mon Camden, break out of the bubble. The future is here, and for Camden to thrive we have to meet it head on.

Marc Ratner, former Camden Select Board member