Southport now has a $400,000 grant from the state of Maine to help pay for a $2.1 million redundant publicly owned municipal fiber optic network on an island where 90% of us are already well served by existing providers. The state board allocating public money for these grants is populated with people like the ex-owner of Axiom, the company hired to build the network.
A similar alignment was also evident in our latest “information” meeting on April 20th. Town selectmen remained silent when the president of Axiom opened with remarks warning the audience of the cost of “breach of contract” if a petition by 144 Southport voters prevailed. Since town counsel was not sought when selectmen signed those contracts and the town attorney was not invited that evening, no one commented. Axiom’s president then assured us “this was not a threat.”
The meeting continued with Axiom’s assurances that just 134 signups out of their financially targeted 320 minimum was “good news” – nine months after their “special” offer was pitched. Then we got a long lecture from a guest speaker equating support for town-owned broadband with support for our island school. Again, silence from the anyone else at the podium.
The meeting format was then limited to “questions only” from the audience. A few audience members confused cable service rates with Axiom’s internet rates. Others confused an objection to “municipally owned” broadband with a general “anti fiber” or “anti-progress” stance. No one corrected them. The current broadband providers weren’t even invited.
One questioner asked about the financials and was shot down by Axiom with a retort to “prove him wrong” as if he were the town’s authoritative advisor. Southport Selectmen, absent any expert independent authority present, had no comment.
At least the island school comment was appropriate in one way: Schools teach us that $400,000 doesn’t cover $2.1 million in expenses, 134 clients is way short of 320, and critical thinking requires balanced information - which was absent from that room. It’s time for selectmen and Axiom to stop blaming 144 petitioners for lack of trust after meetings like this.