Southport selectmen not interested in Spectrum’s expansion

Fri, 06/17/2022 - 8:45am

    On June 10, Southport selectmen received a letter from Spectrum offering to collaborate on expanding high-speed internet to unserved homes. But all three board members greeted the offer less than enthusiastically June 15. Melinda Kinney is Charter Communications’ New England government affairs representative. In the letter, Kinney expressed “Spectrum’s commitment to work with the townspeople of Southport to extend (the company’s) footprint to unserved areas.”

    A June 28 referendum will decide if Southport continues moving ahead with its own high-speed fiber broadband network. The proposal would provide state-of-the-art technology access to all island residents and businesses.  Kinney added, in her letter, Spectrum understands current community concerns about high-speed broadband and the company desires to improve customer service for  rural customers. She also alluded to the referendum vote, and offered the company’s help in providing Southport’s unserved households with broadband.

    Spectrum is proposing expanding broadband service to unserved homes without the use of public funds. Southport has already spent over $630,000 in municipal funds on its project. Selectmen believe those funds will be eventually repaid through subscriptions. “We understand several families in Southport remain without access to broadband, Spectrum is willing to invest to help ensure those residents are not left behind,” she wrote. “Pursuing a municipal network will cost taxpayers millions of dollars, incur debt and ultimately put the town’s financial footing at risk. Partnering with our company instead will result in connecting the remaining unserved homes without any contribution of Southport’s public funds.”

    During the June 15 board meeting, selectmen didn’t believe Spectrum’s offer was sincere. Selectman Mary Lou Kostela harkened back to the April 20 municipal broadband network informational session when Kinney discussed services Spectrum could provide. “Three times she got up and spoke about ‘possibilities,’ but offered nothing tangible,” Kostela said.

    Selectman Gerry Gamage was asked about Spectrum’s offer, and said “I don’t respond to propaganda.” Selectmen also said past town officials had asked for expanded broadband access for over three decades without success. “It doesn’t matter who owned it, Cablevision or Time Warner, the answer was always ‘no,’” he said. 

    Selectmen believed Kinney’s letter, made public in a Boothbay Register letter to the editor, was an attempt to sway the upcoming vote. “I will say in past months the communication with Spectrum has been minimal with no real serious offers. Just possibilities,” Gamage said. 

    On June 15, the Boothbay Register asked Kinney about the letter. Senior New England Communication Director Lara Pritchard responded by email. “Spectrum has engaged the town on several occasions in the past and with the warrant action soon to be considered and after the citizens’ petition, we wanted to make sure that residents understood all the options including one that will not cost the town any money and not risk taxpayer resources. Recently, Spectrum provided a letter of commitment to the Selectmen, confirming that we would move forward with the Southport project if the Town decides not to pursue a municipal network. The project could begin this summer and be completed within 12 months of receiving all necessary pole permits and make ready. We would extend our network to reach around 20 currently unserved homes at no cost to the town,” she wrote. 

    The Boothbay Register also asked via email, why Spectrum made this offer now and how much the project would cost. Spectrum officials have not responded to those questions.

    Kostela described Pritchard’s remarks to the Boothbay Register as not truthful.

    In other action, selectmen scheduled a wharves and wiers application site visit. Selectmen received a request from Robert Bowden for his Pine Cliff Road property. Bowden is seeking a 38-foot by 6-foot pile-supported pier with a 3-foot by 40-foot runway, with a 10-foot by 24-foot float perpendicular to the shore. Selectmen will inspect the property at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 6.

    Selectmen unanimously appointed the following election clerks: Amy Bateman, Mary Hanley, Jane Lunt, Carole Zalucky and Judy Marshall. Selectmen meet next at 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 22 in the town office.