Consolidated Communications (CCI) told the Boothbay Harbor Broadband Committee Feb. 3, before Boothbay Harbor makes any move on broadband, it should overlay CCI’s coverage and Spectrum's coverage to determine any dead pockets receiving limited or no broadband coverage.
CCI’s Director of External Relations and Community Broadband Development Jeff Nevins and Product Marketing Manager Jeff McIver talked with the panel about the company’s existing broadband coverage in the area and the future of connectivity in general.
Committee members noted a study by Casco Bay Advisors will show all broadband coverage between Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor.
“Regulatory-wise, we have to provide services to every location regardless of where it is, so therefore we have copper to everyone's homes,” said Nevins.
McIver added, “The positive side to that is that we have access to those areas, too. So, if a solution was determined – if the town and us figured out a way to move forward by introducing fiber – we have (direct) access.”
Nevins said many communities are trying to find ways to improve or expand broadband coverage, so many state and federal programs are growing and are becoming more competitive. Towns can also bond for broadband infrastructure funds; it takes a two-thirds majority at a town vote.
Nevins used the example of Chesterfield, New Hampshire where CCI won a contract to provide fiber to the home for 1,900 homes and businesses. The existing network was updated to fiber, and more remote terminals were built to help connect the more rural areas. The cost of the project for Chesterfield was $1.8 million and CCI pitched in $2.1 million to connect areas already served to bring coverage up equally across the board. McIver said that situation is unique as the municipality owns the network until the 20-year bond is paid off. Then CCI will own the network.
CCI has a take rate of just over 10% in Boothbay Harbor. Nevins and McIver estimate a take rate of 40-60% in the Boothbay region if fiber to the home is introduced. Committee members Darrell Gudroe and Tom Minerich were concerned the consumer’s share of costs to pay down the bond, on top of service fees, would be asking too much of most households and would drastically affect the take rate of the new services.
Said Gudroe, “Why not have a low enough rate and a low enough speed to entice them to actually buy it? I think starting cost of speed at $50 and up is prohibitive … If it were more affordable, you might only have to take $5 from every person who bought in and you might have a plan for $25 a month. That's one of the things we're trying to do here is not just make fiber available, but make it affordable.”
Gudroe said the catch is all the summer homes occupied four to five months a year make a high take rate unlikely.
“We do keep people on what we call a seasonal disconnect,” said Nevins. “It has its challenges. We've had these discussions with Greenville, Rangeley even as far north as Fort Fairfield. Everybody's wrestling with it, everybody feels the need to improve what they already have.”
Nevins and McIver said fiber-to-home is not the answer for every community, but Chesterfield found homes increased in value between 3-10%. CCI has also worked with towns where costs would be prohibitive.
“Every project we've talked about tonight, CCI has put in if not half, then more of the money in order to make the new partnerships work. We're not out there telling towns 'You've got to come up with this on your own' … As far as our models are concerned, we're always looking for ways to break our models. Maybe there's a new model you'll look at perfect for a seasonal, Maine coastal town.”
McIver said people need to keep in mind, bandwidth is going to keep increasing in demand. “Let's say five years from now the expectation is that we need to be able to provide five gig or 10 gig. It’s a change that we just have to do in the back office. (We don't) need to go out and change the fiber, the poles or in the house. Everything is capable of holding that kind of speed.”
The next broadband committee meeting will bring Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor selectmen together for a presentation on coverage inventory from Casco Bay Advisors. The date and time are yet to be determined.