Boothbay Harbor wants broadband committee input on possible regional network

Tue, 11/29/2022 - 2:45pm

Boothbay Harbor selectmen want an opinion from the broadband committee prior to committing to any potential network expansion plans. On Nov. 28, selectmen heard a Fidium Fiber presentation on a region-wide network which includes Boothbay Harbor, Boothbay, Edgecomb and Southport. Under the proposal, Fidium would invest $3.8 million to connect all four towns to a broadband fiber network. 

In his presentation, he said all four towns would have 100% access to fiber broadband. There would be no network installation cost, no contract or obligation for residents to use their service. “There are no mandatory costs and we want to make this very transparent,” Senior Manager of Governmental Affairs Simon Thorne said.

He further explained Fidium Fiber’s plan to use a combination of federal and state grants. “This proposal doesn’t require a municipal investment. We are relying mostly on grants, but municipal contributions would enhance our Maine Connectivity Authority grant,” he said. 

Thorne explained the MCA has $70 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for broadband expansion. The first round distributes $20 million and will be awarded in early 2023. The second round has $50 million available. Thorne believes the Boothbay region towns are prime candidates for round 2. Thorne explained the MCA defines an underserved community as “100 up, and 100 down” and unserved as “25 up and three down.” 

He believes the MCA definition is more favorable to applicants than may occur in future grant opportunities. “That may change under the BEAD (Broadband Equity Access and Development program) which is another round of future ARPA funding,” he said. “Now is the time to take advantage of the MCA.”

Fidium is looking for community support for its regional proposal. He told municipal officials a letter of support would enhance any application submitted to the MCA.  So far, only Edgecomb authorized a support letter. Thorne reported the application deadline was “a couple weeks away.”

But Broadband Committee member Tom Minerich cautioned selectmen to take their time making a decision. He proposed re-assembling the broadband committee and seeking proposals from other fiber companies. “In my personal opinion, there is no decision to make. Let’s put the broadband committee back together, and see what other fiber companies can offer. They may be seeking grants, too,” he said. 

Selectman Denise Griffin liked Fidium’s proposal to provide fiber access to the entire town. “A previous vendor promised fiber all the way to the peninsula’s end, but it stopped two houses short of mine. We can’t get it,” she said. Griffin asked if Fidium would put its commitment in writing.

Throne responded the MCA would inspect the agreement, and require Fidium to live up to  the terms. “If we propose it, we have to fulfill it. The MCA will make sure of it,” he said.

Selectmen agreed to have Town Manager Julia Latter contact other fiber companies seeking interest in broadband fiber expansion. She will also contact the four broadband committee members to review any potential expansion offers. 

In other action, selectmen voted unanimously to buy a new public works truck for snow plowing. Latter sought an emergency expenditure due to the 2005 International Series 7400’s condition. Latter reported the truck had a “rotted framework and cracked framework.” Selectmen authorized buying a new truck from O’Connor’s in Augusta for $159,924. The town will use $85,796 in reserve account funds and $74,127 from the undesignated account.

Latter expects the new truck’s arrival by the second week in December.  “We are lucky to have found this one. There is nothing out there, and with all the supply line problems, it could probably take several months before another becomes available,” she said. 

The town is enlisting Gartley and Dorsky of Damariscotta to consult on the Footbridge Renovation project. Latter reported the firm met on-site with six contractors Nov. 21. She reported contractors’ sealed bids are due at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 13. 

Selectmen conducted two executive sessions – one, a real property discussion; the other, on a personnel matter. Latter said Nov. 29, selectmen took no action following either session.

Selectmen meet next at 7 p.m. Dec. 12 in the conference room.