A regional, municipal-owned broadband internet utility is viable, according to a report from a consultant hired by the local communities.

Axiom Technologies issued its report in January. The report focuses on the creation of a utility to serve the four core communities of Rockland, Camden, Rockport, and Thomaston.

In June 2021, the charter towns of Camden and Rockport formed, by an inter-local agreement, a non-profit, regional broadband utility called the Midcoast Internet Development Corporation. In addition to the two charter towns, the development corporation added Rockland and Thomaston as initial partners.

In addition to the four core communities, Union, Cushing, Owls Head, and South Thomaston have expressed strong interest in the regional network and are participating in related feasibility studies, according to Axiom.

The project is viable — even at relatively low take rates,” Axiom stated.

The estimated initial construction cost for the project to serve the four communities is $15.8 million. Financing could come from federal, state, and other grants, private investors, the Finance Authority of Maine, Coastal Enterprise Inc., The Island Institute, The Alfond Foundation, and The Maine Community Foundation.

The report estimates in the first year, 2,800 customers would sign up for the service. That would increase in subsequent years, the report states.

The internet corporation’s goal is open access that meets minimal symmetrical speeds of 100/100 megabits per second with capabilities to reach 1,000 megabits, and the new service is available to every home and business in the community.

Projected rates would start at $30 per month for the basic speed to as high as $110 per month for the fastest speed.

“Surplus is significant enough to help fund ongoing expenses. Limiting construction costs close to the estimate is critical to achieving the surplus needed. Increased surplus to fund operations in the early years can be achieved with level debt payments. This could be successful as a stand-alone project but achieves greater success as a regional project,” Axiom concluded in its report to the communities.

The need for a municipally-owned utility and its associated fiber optic network is based on the following, according to the report:

•The internet service in the region is monopoly controlled, reflected by some of the highest pricing in the nation, with service levels that do not meet customer demands.

•The majority of existing regional infrastructure is outdated DSL and coaxial cable technology, with little to no new investment in network upgrades.

•The incumbent providers are unresponsive to community needs and requests for affordable, fast, symmetrical, and reliable service.

“A driving force of the MIDC and its community-owned network is its unique position and ability to address equity and inclusion. In the communities of the Midcoast region, far too many people are without access/connectivity, and without knowledge of how to utilize and benefit from the technologies associated with a broad band connection,” the report stated.

“Fiber networks create jobs by supporting existing businesses and attracting new ones. Having the requisite broadband availability opens up the opportunity to create new lines of business for Mainers e.g., customer service representatives for major corporations, tech support, and all bi-directional communication and service industries that will place Maine workers on a par with job opportunities in more densely populated portions of the country,” the Axiom report states.

“The MIDC managing directors should begin their official marketing and communications drive that includes extensive community outreach. To date, MIDC outreach and communication has occurred at the Council/Select Board, the Broadband Committee level and the MIC level with associated town meetings and ballot questions. Because take rates are vital to the project’s success, getting an up-to-date and accurate picture of how community members feel and the degree of support for the MIDC effort is essential on all levels of project development, namely showing lenders that the project is welcome by each community, helping to build momentum for local community funding, and showing investors that their investments will be impactful. Outreach is critical at this time. A good partner in these efforts would be the Island Institute. They could provide both technical and financial support,” the report states.