When Susan Corbett bought a cottage in Maine 20 years ago, her kids were grown, she was single and she had consulting business that she could relocate. All she needed was high-speed internet.
And she was shocked to discover that only two towns in Washington County—Calais and Machias—had DSL at that time.
“‘They have wireless in Taipei,” says Susan. “Why can’t I have it in Jonesport?’”
Back then, the only solution—a fractional T1 line—cost $750 a month.
Susan met with the technicians who owned a small technology consulting business in Machias called Axiom Technologies. She pitched her ideas for a wireless network and invested in and joined the company.
“We live in a beautiful place, but we’ve got trees, rocks, boulders, mountains,” says Susan, 62, now Axiom’s owner and chief executive officer “Axiom is technology-neutral. We will use whatever technology we need to get the job done.”
Axiom put in the first wireless access point in Jonesport in 2005, and since then has built more than 100 access points that connect over 2,500 square miles of Washington County.
A turning point came when the U.S. Department of Commerce awarded Axiom a $1.4 million National Telecommunications and Information Administration grant for its work in connecting Maine’s poorest county with employment and education through broadband.
But, for Axiom, making broadband service available is just the first step.
“You can build the best network in the world, but if people can’t afford to use it, or don’t know how to use it or why they would want to use it, you’re not finished,” says Susan, explaining that Axiom also works to make lightly used computers available to people who can’t afford to buy new and provides digital literacy classes and professional services.
“Classes are so critically important for adult learners,” Susan says. “In any job today, you’re likely to need to have some sort of computer skill. And it’s not enough to just say, ‘Here’s this connection.’”
Susan loves seeing the economic impact of Axiom’s work, especially in cottage industries. For example, she spoke of a woman who grows a couple acres of blueberries, then diversified by selling jam and then used technology to label the jam and sell it nationally online.
“If you connect a business to the internet and teach those employees how to use it, their world opens up,” she says. “We work with farmers and fishermen to teach them to use technology to do real-time reporting from any location and to improve their efficiency and their bottom line. We believe that every home and business in the state should be connected to the Internet. For us, every connection counts.”
Amy Paradysz is a writer, editor and photographer who lives in Scarborough.