Southport’s was one of eight Maine projects awarded broadband infrastructure grants April 27 from ConnectMaine. Southport received a $400,000 grant for its fiber-optic broadband expansion project which would provide 100% town-wide access. In May 2021, Southport residents approved selectmen to seek up to $2.48 million. The project has a current price tag of $2.1 million. The town has spent $640,000 in municipal funds, so far.
Selectmen announced the grant during the April 27 board meeting. Selectman Gerry Gamage said the grant would reduce the loan town officials secured from The First. On March 30, selectmen secured a $1.5 million loan to finance the project. The town received a 3.69% interest rate for 15 years and will make payments each September. There is no penalty for early payoff.
The grant comes at a good time for Southport officials. In recent weeks, residents have complained about using taxpayers’ dollars for a project billed as “tax neutral.” Residents Tom Myette, Celeste Brown and Doug Jones submitted two petitions which exceeded the required 42 registered voter signatures. Petition No. 1 would “re-set” what happened last May by rescinding the authority allowing selectmen to seek funding. A “yes” vote would also direct selectmen to sell already purchased materials. The second petition would create a fund to help “unserved” residents receive broadband access.
Island Institute sent Southport a congratulatory email after ConnectMaine announced the awards. “On behalf of Island Institute’s broadband team, I’d like to offer you our hearty congratulations on today’s announcement ... I also meant to follow up after last Wednesday’s meeting to applaud the select board for your thoughtful facilitation of the community discussion. We look forward to continuing to support your process of engaging the wider community as this project moves forward,” wrote Community Development Officer Christa Thorpe.
In total, ConnectMaine awarded $15 million toward broadband projects. Two other Axiom Technologies clients received grants. Chebeague Island received $800,000 for its $1,665,571 project and Leeds received $2.1 million for its $4,169,732 one. Other recipients were Cooper, $400,000; Maine West (towns of Buckfield, Hartford, Hebron and Sumner), $6,815,914; Northport, $2,189,670; Princeton, $235,309; and Searsport, $2,087,464.
ConnectMaine Authority awards infrastructure grants to support expansion of broadband service. Opened on Jan. 12, this application window includes the remaining bond funds and additional funds dedicated from Maine Connectivity Authority. In July 2020, Maine voters approved a state broadband bond of $15 million, of which just over half was awarded in May 2021.
In a press release, ConnectMaine wrote: “Broadband service enables civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning and access to essential services. The projects awarded represent a wide spectrum of public-private partnerships to reach about 6,000 in some of the least served areas of the state. The broadband infrastructure resulting from five of the projects will be publicly owned by municipalities or broadband utility districts. Two other projects leverage existing expansion or upgrade projects underway, and involve a national internet service provider and a smaller, Maine-based company. Importantly, these projects won’t leave outlying roads or potential subscribers without access to broadband service.”