Boothbay exploring new internet deal with Spectrum

Fri, 06/25/2021 - 8:45am

A new proposal to expand broadband internet access town wide had one Boothbay selectman saying June 23, Spectrum’s new community program was “too good to be true.” For several months, the town sought a better deal on cable television and internet services from Spectrum. In response, Spectrum is providing a new internet-only program which would provide high-speed broadband town wide at a lower cost. Community Solutions Account Executive Michelle Larochelle explained the proposal during the selectmen’s meeting.

Spectrum’s program devised six months ago is called “Community WiFi.” The program expands broadband into unserved and underserved locations. The program would be a partnership between Boothbay and Spectrum. Boothbay would be charged a flat rate based on the number of households and Spectrum would provide town-wide expansion.

Larochelle reported Boothbay has an estimated 2,400 households and would be charged $24.99 per month per household. Boothbay would be responsible for billing and setting rates. Regardless of whether or not residents used Spectrum internet service, Boothbay would be charged per household. Residents would receive the fastest internet speeds currently available at a significantly reduced rate, according to Larochelle.

Selectmen said they paid $75 a month for their current high speed internet fees. In her presentation, Larochelle explained, Boothbay could charge $25 per month for high-speed internet, and break even, or at $44 per month, Boothbay would net $5 million over a 10-year period. Spectrum is requiring a 10-year contract, but Larochelle said, at this point, length is negotiable. “We talking to several towns in the Midcoast region. We don’t have any agreements so far, so Boothbay would be the first,” she said.

Under the proposal, Spectrum would make $12.49 million over the 10-year term, she said. “This sounds too good to be true,” Selectman Steve Lewis. “But I still want to see what the billing costs would be.” Larochelle told selectmen, the break even point for Boothbay would be 1,373 paying internet customers. Currently, the town has 1,698 customers. “This is a no-risk proposal for the municipality. You don’t have to invest money in expanding the network. You all set the price and handle the billing. Spectrum would provide technical assistance and repairs,” she said. 

Lewis wasn't the only board member concerned about the billing. Chairman Dale Harmon said he was “intrigued” by Spectrum’s proposal, but wanted more billing information. Larochelle provided a couple of municipal billing options. One is hiring a third party service. Another would make the municipal office or tax bills the vehicle for billing. Larochelle told selectmen about an independent company, On Board, which could handle billing for a municipality. Selectmen will further discuss the program next month with Larochelle, who will provide On Board’s pricing information.

In other action, selectmen are preparing to invest a portion of $2.4 million in their undesignated fund by asking Lincoln County to accept monthly payments. Boothbay currently makes one large annual payment, but Town Manager Dan Bryer is concerned about cash flow. He is concerned the county tax payment will create a cash flow problem with such a significant amount tied up in an investment. He recommended making smaller county tax payments. “A monthly payment would be better, and not lead to a possible TAN (tax anticipation note),” he said. Selectmen directed Bryer to contact county commissioners about arranging monthly payments. 

The Department of Environment Protection has reviewed Boothbay’s recently updated municipal ordinances changes. Bryer reported the department made several changes. He sent those revisions for a legal review. Selectmen hope to have the DEP revisions ready for a town vote in time for the November election.

Selectmen meet next at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 14 in the municipal building’s conference room.