Cribstone Communications co-owners Zachary Stoler and Megan Wilson sit on their bucket truck, Bethany, at Lowell’s Cove, Orr’s Island. (Photo courtesy Cribstone Communications)
Like David challenging Goliath, homegrown Cribstone Communications is challenging cable giant Comcast’s Xfinity to provide internet service for Harpswell. Cribstone has 15 paying customers with an additional 50 expected by the end of the year.
“It’s not a huge amount, I’ll be honest with you,” said Zach Stoler, who co-owns, with his wife, Megan Wilson, Harpswell’s only high-speed fiber-to-the-home internet and phone company. “We are moving forward. It’s a challenging business to be in, for sure.”
Stoler said that as of the end of January, fiber-optic service would be available along Harpswell Islands Road (Route 24) near the southern end of Orr’s Island, from Lowell’s Cove to the Cribstone Bridge, including Johnson Point Road and Cooper Lane. Telephone service also is available. His goal is to have fiber-optic internet available to the southern tip of Bailey Island this year, although he has not set a firm timeline.
Launched in September 2020, Cribstone’s first installation wasn’t until April 2022 because of “red tape,” said Stoler. “There basically were a lot of negotiations with Consolidated Communications and Central Maine Power to use their poles. It took a while to get through their lengthy processes, and dealing with the normal rush of summer traffic this (past) year slowed us down.” Stoler said he’s also keeping an eye on the results of a broadband report from a consultant hired by the town. “That’s limited our announcement of long-term plans.”
That hasn’t stopped Cribstone short term. “We are actively continuing to build,” he said. Adding fiber-optic lines “just goes a little slower in the winter, of course, because of bad weather days.” Stoler and Wilson live on Orr’s Island and do the work themselves with two part-time employees.
Why aren’t there more customers? Stoler said a lot of folks enjoy their cable TV and don’t want to give up bundled internet and cable TV when they switch to Cribstone for only internet. Customers can opt for streaming services instead of cable. But demographics could be part of the problem, Stoler added. “Some customers aren’t technically savvy.”
Comcast subsidiary Xfinity is the area’s top provider for internet service. “We’ve offered internet service as a stand-alone service (in Harpswell) for years with speeds up to 1.2 gig (gigabits) for consumers and 100 gig for businesses,” said Comcast spokesperson Marc Goodman.
Consolidated Communications offers DSL, or digital subscription line, internet and telephone service here. Other options for internet include satellite and wireless providers, where available.
The three major types of broadband internet are cable, fiber and DSL. According to highspeedinternet.com, “fiber is better at delivering the fastest internet speeds, but cable is much more available and often cheaper.” DSL uses telephone lines and is slower.
Cribstone has three levels of monthly service, depending on the speed of megabits per second, or Mbps: $59.99 for 75 Mbps, $64.99 for 200 Mpbs or $74.99 for 300 Mpbs. Those who want to add phone service pay an additional $20 monthly, plus tax. Cribstone does not charge for modems or Wi-Fi routers.
Herrick Johnson, who lives on Orr’s Island, said he switched to Cribstone for internet service after two unhappy years dealing with Comcast. And “it’s good to buy local,” he added, noting that Cribstone “guarantees whatever speed you buy.”
Saving “about a hundred bucks a month” is why Catherine Gibson and her husband, Robert, dropped Comcast internet and its TV lineup, instead opting for Cribstone’s internet only. “We had Comcast since the end of 2013 and it was getting so expensive,” Gibson said.
“Cribstone has excellent (internet) speed, is reliable and inexpensive,” added Gibson, who also lives on Orr’s. Still, she said there are a few cable channels she misses, like C-SPAN and CNN.
After switching from DSL, Sean Hall said he is impressed with the “pretty remarkable speed” of Cribstone’s internet service. Hall, assistant chief of the Orr’s and Bailey Islands Fire Department, praised Stoler for his ambition, drive and customer service. “It’s nice to see,” he said.
Stoler said Cribstone was launched because he had “a really bad experience with Comcast. I said to myself, you have to be the change you want to see in the world.”
Cribstone isn’t likely to slay a Goliath like Comcast, but Stoler said he “hopes people understand we’re a small company and we can fix things fast. Our plan is to stay small — a good old honest business like there used to be.”
Connie Sage Conner is a retired editor of The Virginian-Pilot. She lives in Harpswell and serves on the Harpswell News Board of Directors.