Selectmen talk broadband, endorse inter-town committee

Tue, 06/25/2019 - 10:45am

Boothbay selectmen Kristina Ford and Desiree Scorcia, Boothbay Town Manager Dan Bryer and Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library Executive Director Joanna Breen briefed Boothbay Harbor selectmen June 24 on efforts to expand broadband down the Route 27 corridor.

With Breen’s help and BHML’s commitment to community education on broadband, Boothbay secured a Maine Community Foundation grant in December worth $7,500 toward broadband expansion efforts. Since then, for $2,000 of it, local consultant Tom Myette, owner of OmniHelios, conducted a survey of internet access throughout the region and reported his findings.

“What he figured out … is that you can't be driven by what the market is because they'll just tell you what to do. You don't have any leverage,” Ford explained.

While Boothbay has most of the more rural, under-served areas, Boothbay Harbor has the problem of a seasonal slowdown in the summer. Myette interviewed four of the region’s largest businesses – Washburn & Doughty, Bigelow Laboratories, Boothbay Harbor Country Club and Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens – and discovered more information on how local internet providers work. “He also got them to agree to help us learn how to negotiate with (providers) ...”

Ford said state laws mandate that large providers come to the table for more rural areas, and now that the broadband crowd knows provider Spectrum is operating on an expired contract, they may want to.

So Ford, Bryer, Scorcia and Breen asked Boothbay Harbor to consider asking Myette to write a request for proposal (RFP) to get the region’s three providers and perhaps others to negotiate. If no one likes what the providers propose, the towns do not have to accept any offers and can draft a better informed RFP.

“We really haven't been able to engage Boothbay Harbor as much as we want, so we were hoping to hear from you maybe what direction you thought you were going to go, because we'd still like there to be symbiosis between the two towns,” said Bryer.

Boothbay Harbor Selectman Denise Griffin asked how the towns can find out where the service gaps are.

“We know that the providers know,” Ford said. “That's why they come to … meetings, show you where they provide service and they say ‛You can't have a copy of this.’”

Breen suggested a broadband committee may want to explore the option of becoming a public utility. "That would definitely change everything, right?"

Breen suggested Boothbay Harbor start a broadband committee. That would help get public buy-in because the project could get expensive and it will be important for the towns to get a feel of what they want and how much they want to spend, Scorcia said.

Members of both boards and the audience volleyed the viability of fiber optics versus copper versus wireless hotspots and discussed possible use of TIF funds to entice providers, but the most agreeable option for now was to have a committee tackle most of these questions.

Over the next week, Boothbay Harbor selectmen will field applications for broadband committee members. Applications can be found in the town office.

Said Scorcia, “I definitely, personally want to keep my eyes on something that's going to work in 10-20 years from now as well as today, because while we're talking about building out, I think we need to future-proof it.”