Thursday, November 1, 2001

Cape and Scarborough above national average for web access

Published in the Current

Scarborough and Cape Elizabeth are among the most-wired towns in the U.S. Some of it is due to demographics, while part of the two towns’ connection to the Internet came by accident.

When TimeWarner Cable introduced its RoadRunner high-speed Internet access over cable television wires here in 1996, it was not because the company was looking for a test market, or even had much of a plan for the Portland area.

The system the company ordered for installation in San Diego was too small for that city.

Scrambling to find a home for equipment it couldn’t otherwise use, TimeWarner looked at Portland, and brought RoadRunner to Maine, according to Maine’s RoadRunner general manager, Rick Preti.

That ordering mistake kicked Scarborough and Cape Elizabeth into the elite bracket of high-speed, easy-installation Internet access early in the Internet boom, according to analyst Antony Parchment of Internet Commerce Systems in Scarborough.

The relative affluence of the two towns meant people could purchase Internet access. High educational levels of town residents meant they wanted to see what was out there on the newly-dubbed “information superhighway.”

Many people had moved to Maine for improved quality of life, but wanted to continue
working in their previous career fields.

The Internet allowed them to do that, and high-speed connectivity made it even easier. Rather than a one-lane dirt road full of potholes, the Internet over a cable connection was at least a two-way street covered in blacktop.

“We were fortunate,” Parchment said. And there was a ready market of ex-city people.
“People had made their lifestyle choices and wanted to be in Maine,” Parchment said.

It caught on, and passed via word-of-mouth among Internet users in the area.

“Now people are hooked,” Parchment said.

And Internet access in both Scarborough and Cape Elizabeth is well above national norms.

One-fourth of the households in the two towns are connected to RoadRunner, Preti said.

Business advantage
One Scarborough business is capitalizing on the Internet connectivity in town.

Rob Doehler of Scarborough’s said his business would not be located in Scarborough if the town’s demographics did not support an Internet food-ordering business.

With a high concentration of families in which both parents work, and with a high household disposable income, Scarborough is well-positioned to support a food take-out and delivery business which accepts orders over the Internet, he said., Doehler said, takes advantage of the Internet to allow busy professionals to order healthy food quickly. It is an example of his vision for the next phase of Internet business development.

“The Internet at this stage needs to come to the brick-and-mortar business,” Doehler said. The real potential, he said, is to make transactions between existing customers of existing businesses more efficient.

People can order food on-line or over the phone, and can either pick it up or have it delivered in Scarborough.

Customers can also come in and eat at the store on Route 1.

Other local businesses say the Internet has a positive impact on them, too. Car dealerships traditionally draw most of their business from local residents, but Michael Pierter of Scarborough-based Portland Volvo said he gets interest from as far afield as Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Those prospective customers, he said, look at the dealership’s on-line used car inventory and call to express interest in a certain car.

“It opens up our inventory to a new group of people,” he said.

Many walk-in customers also are better informed as a result of the Internet, Pierter said. They have done on-line research into cars’ safety ratings, reliability and options packages, as well as prices.

“We have a fair amount of customers who do research before they come in,” he said.

Tom Hall of Hall Marketing in Scarborough said he has web development clients in various businesses, including retail stores, software dealers and consultants.

“It doesn’t matter what kind of business you have,” Hall said.

He said a lot of people locally use the Internet to research items before purchasing, and many take advantage of Internet access at work.

“You’ll see a big spike (in web site traffic) from like 11:45 to 1:15,” Hall said, when people are at their desks eating lunch and checking out the web.

He said web site statistics also show local businesses can succeed on-line.

“Server stats show that businesses that offer local services are getting found” during Internet searches, Hall said.

Wired houses
Not only are most households in the two towns equipped with some form of Internet access, but more of those connections are high-speed hookups than would be expected by looking at national data.

RoadRunner, Preti said, has over 30,000 subscribers in Maine, serving 18 communities in Cumberland County, including Scarborough and Cape Elizabeth.

He would not give specific subscriber numbers in the two towns. He did say that out of the homes in Scarborough which are passed by cable service, 26 percent are subscribers to RoadRunner. In Cape Elizabeth, the subscriber base is between 28 and 29 percent of households passed by cable, he said.

This, he said, is “very high by national standards.”

Still, the medium has room for growth. By contrast, Preti said, 85 percent of homes passed by cable connections subscribe to cable television service.

Nua Internet Surveys show that 70.7 million households in the U.S. have Internet access, or just over two-thirds of all households nationwide.

Nua said less than 1 percent of Internet access in the U.S. is provided over cable television systems, which is due, in part, to the fact many areas are not served by cable Internet services. But the sector is growing, with cable Internet connections increasing 153 percent to 3.6 million in 2000, Nua statistics show.

Schools and government
Gary Lanoie, technology coordinator for Cape Elizabeth’s schools and for the town, has two mobile labs—carts with laptops and printers—which can move from classroom to classroom to assist with teaching.

“You can bring the technology to the classroom,” Lanoie said.

Teachers and parents use the web site extensively, Lanoie said, to get information about school activities and programs. “We try to keep things current and up-to-date,”
Lanoie said.

Both Scarborough and Cape Elizabeth have extensive town government web sites, providing 24-hour access to forms and information, as well as databases of town ordinances.

Stephen Tewhey, Scarborough’s director of information systems, which is also a school-town combination position, said the town will be expanding its four-year-old web site, offering real-time signups for community services events. Tewhey said the town will continue to put meeting agendas and minutes on the web, as well as other information.

“We really want to be able to put the public information out where the public is able to view it,” Tewhey said.

He said town residents do use the web sites, often in the evening when town offices are closed. And people notice if there’s a delay.

“The few times that we have been late putting out agendas, the phone rings,” he said.

The Scarborough Police Department also uses the Internet to distribute information. The department has a list of e-mail addresses to which community officer Joe Giacomantonio sends road closings, emergency advisories and general information.

The list is constantly growing, Giacomantonio said, and now includes between 30 and 40 addresses.