Broadband survey shows customers better served than in other rural towns

Fri, 07/24/2020 - 7:00am

    Nearly a year ago, Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor hired Casco Bay Associates of Gardiner to review gaps in high-speed broadband coverage. On July 22, Casco Bay Associates President Brian Lippold gave Boothbay selectmen an overview of his findings. The 30-page report showed both Lincoln County towns had better cable television and internet access than other rural towns across the state. The report showed Boothbay Harbor residents had 99% access and Boothbay residents had close to 90%.

    Comparing broadband access to other Maine communities, Lippold reported the two towns are well-served compared to others north of Brunswick. “Many communities we serve are around 50% so it’s pretty good here, but there are gaps,” he said. Despite a high percentage of coverage, Lippold reported Boothbay could still receive state grants to provide coverage to 141 potential customers living on the eight miles of town roads without cable or internet access. The other 56 miles have it. Lippold estimated the cost for providing unserved customers at $365,000.

    The broadband survey was a joint-venture between Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor selectmen. Last September, both boards contracted with the firm for $18,000 for a comprehensive survey. The towns used $7,500 from a Maine Community Foundation grant and $5,250 each from their respective Joint Economic Development Committee accounts. Both towns are also interested in providing residents with fiber optic technology for more reliable and faster service. Lippold reported building a fiber optic infrastructure would cost slightly less than $6 million.
    Lippold left Boothbay selectmen with five recommendations. He advised them to quickly develop their broadband infrastructure vision and goals. He also advised sharing the report with local providers (Spectrum, Consolidated Communications and LCI) and other third parties in seeking a fiber to the home solution. As Spectrum is the local cable provider for both towns, he advised the Spectrum Cable Modem Extension solution was the lowest cost, least risk and quickest to deploy for filling current gaps. He also urged selectmen to ask LCI (Lincoln Communications) about preliminary designs and cost estimates for deploying fiber to the household network. “We’re aware LCI has an interest in expanding into the Boothbay region, and given their existing and diverse infrastructure, the towns would be well-served in considering all its options,” he said.
    In other action, selectmen directed Town Manager Dan Bryer to begin working with the planning board toward developing a timeline to complete the updated ordinances in time for the November election. The project began in 2012 as an appointed committee began working on a new comprehensive plan. The committee finished its work in 2015, and residents approved the new comprehensive plan later that year. The planning board has been working toward incorporating the new comprehensive plan into municipal ordinances. Town officials hope the proposed ordinance revisions will be ready for the November ballot. But the planning board just received notes from municipal attorney Sally Daggett on the rough draft and is still waiting for Maine Department of Environmental Protection Agency comments.
    Selectman and former planning board member Mike Tomacelli believes the revisions can be finished with two workshops in August and possibly one in September. “It’s a pretty tight schedule, but I’d hate to see this put off until May,” Tomacelli said. Bryer will contact planning board chairman Sam Morris and consultant Mark Eyerman about finalizing wording before a public hearing is held ahead of the November election.
    The board approved 4-0 a noise permit for a fireworks show at Boothbay Harbor Country Club at 50 Sugar Maple Lane from 8:45 to 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 25.
    Selectmen meet next at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 12 in the municipal building’s conference room.