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Hope board approves LCI broadband grant effort

By Daniel Dunkle | Apr 21, 2021

Hope — The Hope Select Board voted unanimously to support LCI’s application for the first phase of a ConnectMe grant to expand broadband in the town, but on the condition that they could continue to negotiate issues including the requirement by the internet provider that customers have a land line.

Even with the approval, it is still not guaranteed the company will receive the grant. This is just to move forward on the application.

The board met with Alan Hinsey, of LCI, and Midcoast Internet Coalition Vice Chair Matthew Siegel April 20 to discuss options for the future of broadband expansion in the town.

Previously, the coalition had urged local towns to put their grant dollars toward helping the coalition create a community-owned utility that would provide an open access fiber system. That corporation will be too late for the deadline on this grant, however. The proposed open-access system would allow the coalition to lease fiber to various internet service providers, creating competition for customers and hopefully reducing costs.

LCI, however, working as a private company, has already been investing in creating fiber infrastructure in Hope since 2012 and greatly expanded it in 2020.

Board Chair Sarah Ann Smith said Hope is not choosing one or the other but working with both LCI and the coalition. Siegel said he was not there to compete with LCI.

Hope Vice Chair Brian Powers raised questions such as why LCI requires internet customers to also pay for a land line through the company, which he was told by the broadband committee’s Melissa Hall was not the industry standard.

“We’re the phone company,” Hinsey said.

LCI is affiliated with Lincolnville Telephone Company and Tidewater Telecom.

He said it was part of a bundle package providing both phone service and internet.

Hall said she had not heard of any other company requiring that, and Hinsey responded that she had not done her research.

Powers said many do not use landlines anymore and do not want to pay for a service they do not use.

Another sticking point for some was the three-year contract, but Hinsey reported LCI was willing to waive that.

In his motion to approve the grant application process, Powers said he wanted Hinsey’s commitment to continue to negotiate and fine-tune the details.

Selectman Bruce Haffner said working with LCI was an “absolute layup!” He said the company had already brought fiber to the town and that while he thinks the coalition is great, it actually having fiber on the poles is far down the road.

Hinsey noted there are 80 applications from people in Hope wanting fiber now.

Siegel said LCI is a monopoly. It will own the system and determine the rules of engagement, he added.

Hinsey has rejected the statement in previous meetings that LCI has a monopoly, arguing other companies are welcome to come in and start building fiber infrastructure.

Hinsey told the Hope Select Board April 13 that Lincolnville had opted not to support LCI’s application. Appleton has supported the plan.

The coalition is also moving forward. Camden approved this week putting on the June ballot whether to enter into an interlocal agreement with Rockport, creating the nonprofit Midcoast Internet Development Corp. With this corporation formed, the group can begin seeking grant dollars and raising funds for its projects.

The coalition has now been joined by Northport, Lincolnville, Hope, Camden, Rockport, Rockland, Thomaston and South Thomaston. It has also been in talks with Owls Head, Cushing, Union, Searsmont and Washington.


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Comments (1)
Posted by: Joshua Gerritsen | Apr 22, 2021 00:39

I think it's important to note that while Alan Hinsey at LCI says they are not a monopoly, this is incorrect. At least when it comes to Lincolnville and I believe Hope, they are a monopoly. Precisely a natural monopoly. So while another utility is welcome to start stringing up fiber in Lincolnville or Hope, a natural monopoly adds barriers to entry.

Wikipedia entry: "A natural monopoly is a monopoly in an industry in which high infrastructural costs and other barriers to entry relative to the size of the market give the largest supplier in an industry, often the first supplier in a market, an overwhelming advantage over potential competitors. This frequently occurs in industries where capital costs predominate, creating economies of scale that are large in relation to the size of the market; examples include public utilities such as water services and electricity."

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