The Boothbay Harbor Broadband Committee spoke Nov. 4 about the Maine Broadband Summit the Island Institute held at Thomas College in Waterville last week. Committee member Mike McBride said many towns at the summit have no broadband.
If the town or a coalition between Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor hires a firm to implement fiber, the company would own the cables in the end, and it would be like going in with a builder who would own your home once it is built, member Mike McBride said. “Down the road, if we decide we are going to do this, I think we have to figure out whether we are going to own it or not.”
Boothbay Selectman Mike Tomacelli said town ownership of a new network has come up at their meetings, but the matter was considered premature until services have been inventoried. He noted it has taken other towns time to invest in their own network. Boothbay Town Manager Dan Bryer said there needs to be a greater understanding of initial and recurring costs.
The committee spoke briefly on the idea of forming a utility service for both towns. That would require the creation of a limited liability company (LLC). Member Darrell Gudroe said the possibilities under ownership are numerous such as leasing the network to a service provider or letting multiple service providers use the network to sell services to their customers. “There's a whole other subset of questions you have to answer if you decide you want to own it. You also have to overcome the fact that if you own it, that means you're starting from scratch, you don't get to use any of the fiber that's already out there.”
Gudroe said he was concerned that most groups at the summit were at least three years years old and several were five to seven years old. Most were new members of their committees, which was discouraging, said Gudroe. “It left me just wondering ‛Do we even have a reason to be here and to be doing this if we really aren't going to accomplish anything?’”
The committee should set a goal to have a solid plan within three years or it should decide not to do anything at all, Gudroe said. He said much can change in three years and that is why it may not be worth putting all the time and effort into a change that cannot happen or may be irrelevant.
Member Joanna Breen agreed. She said each town had a compelling reason to put in the time and effort. “We have broadband, so we don't even know why we're doing this. I think after we get the results of the infrastructure survey, the next step is going to have to be talking to people … Who doesn't have broadband and why don't they have it? If they don't have it because they can't afford it, what are we going to do that's going to be able to change that? If they don't have it because they can't get it, then that's a different issue. I'm still not convinced it's not just an economic barrier on this peninsula …”
All of the breakout sessions during the summit yielded praise for Boothbay Harbor for its decision to pursue an infrastructure study with Casco Bay Advisors. Most older committees started out by doing their own surveys, but the towns quickly became “survey fatigued,” said Gudroe. “They recommended that we don't need a survey just yet, we're going to find out some information (from the infrastructure study) and find out what we need to ask and how we do the surveys.”
Member Ken Fitch agreed. He said he has no plans to serve on a legacy committee and he foresees that the infrastructure study will yield enough information to understand where the problems are and how to best resolve issues. “We won't have to reinvent the wheel. We might have to shape it for our own experience, but there are some interesting ideas.”
The committee will meet next on Monday, Dec. 2 when one of two area providers will give a presentation and answer questions about existing services.