Three Southport residents believe a $2.1 million price tag is too expensive to expand high-speed internet town-wide. Celeste Brown requested selectmen hold a public meeting to discuss the broadband project’s progress. She wants the town to take a closer look to see if it’s really the best option. She was joined by Tom Myette and Doug Jones who shared her views.
On May 7, 2021, Southport held a special town meeting referendum vote to seek bonding not exceeding $2.48 million for creating a municipal owned fiber optic system. The project’s goal is creating access to high-speed internet for every household and business. Residents voted, 95 to 86, approving the project. Brown didn’t support the proposal and believes the special referendum didn’t reflect the community-at-large’s true feeling. “There is a lot of confusion out there and we want a hearing to clear things up,” Brown said. “I voted against this, and I think if the residents had more information they wouldn’t support it, either.”
Selectman Smith Climo said the board was planning for such a meeting and waiting for more summer people to return before holding one. The three residents hope additional information will lead to another special town meeting where the municipal broadband proposal could be voted down.
Myette believes other less expensive options would provide an estimated 10% of unserved internet residents broadband access. “Starlink will do the same for the 10% unserved. It costs $500 to install, and $99 per month. That’s much cheaper than $2.1 million,” he said.
Myette also questioned why Axiom emerged as the project’s top option. He asked why the town didn’t solicit a bid from LCI (Lincolnville Communications, Inc.). Selectmen countered they sought a bid from LCI, but the firm didn’t respond. The town has already spent $640,000 on materials to build the network. Despite the large investment, Brown, Myette and Jones hope a second public vote would end the current project. Selectmen told them they would need approximately 60 signatures to put the question on a special town meeting warrant.
“We don’t have the authority to stop this. You need a town vote,” Selectman Gerry Gamage said.
Selectmen meet next at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, March 16 in the town hall.