Southport says yes to fiber optic funding

Sat, 05/08/2021 - 5:00pm

    Friday, May 7, residents of Southport were asked to vote on future bonding “not to exceed $2,480,000.00,” to fund a town-owned fiber-optic system that would allow every Southport household and business to access high-speed internet.

    In the weeks before the vote, the Southport Broadband Committee hosted three public meetings and seven Zoom meetings, all to inform the voters. 

    Due to the pandemic, voting was by ballot rather than Southport’s traditional format of a show of hands at a town meeting. Turnout was unusually high for a municipal vote. Voters favored the bonding by a margin of 6%: 85 no, 96 yes. It was a validating result for the committee of five that has worked tirelessly over several years to bring the best available internet service to the island.

    “There have been phrases like ‘world-class internet’ and ‘state-of-the-art service,’” said Committee Chair Nancy Prisk. “But honestly our goal has always been simply to provide all islanders with access to an internet service that functions well today and into the future.”

    The hard work is not over. “There is so much to do, now” said Prisk. “The town has to write the RFP (request for proposals) and get it out to all potential internet service providers – from the big national firms to the smaller regional and local firms.” 

    The town will create the RFP with guidance from the Island Institute, which has helped many similar rural and coastal projects around Maine. 

    “Then a provider has to be selected from the RFP responses. Then there has to be a determination of anticipated take-up rate. Then a budget has to be finalized and approved…only then will the bonding happen and the fiber-optic cables be installed.”

    In the background, other financial opportunities – both public and private – will be pursued. “We know that the state, county, and town are all eligible for money from the American Rescue Fund of 2021,” said Prisk. “We also know that that funding must be given to earmarked priorities – like broadband in rural communities.”

    Prisk said the ultimate goal is a fiber-optic network that passes every property on the island and thus gives the ability to provide every property with the best possible internet service. “Many communities have fiber optics for the main artery, but then they switch to copper cables when connecting individual properties. That is not going to happen on Southport,” said Prisk. “Here, every inch will be fiber optic.”

    There is still a long way to go before Southport becomes a regional hotspot in connectivity, but for now, the committee is grateful to voters and relieved by the outcome. “Now Southport can work together to provide the very best for the community,” Prisk said.

    For email updates on the project’s progress, contact southportcommunitybroadband@gmail.com