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Residents seek help for lack of broadband service

By Stephen Betts | Jan 11, 2020
Residents turned out Jan. 6 to ask the town to help find a way for broadband service to be expanded in the community.

Owls Head — The lack of broadband service is leaving some residents out in the digital cold and they are asking the town for help.

Several people turned out Monday afternoon Jan. 6 to an Owls Head Selectmen's meeting to discuss the impact of not having access to the internet.

In the end, a town committee and the Rockland-based Island Institute, which has worked on the issues for island and other coastal communities, will look at options.

A town committee formed last April but Dave Matthews, who was to lead the group, said the group never got off the ground. The committee was to look at options for broadband and cable television.

The residents who turned out for the meeting largely came from the Ballyhac Cove area of Owls Head.

Kim Slawson said he has four children who are unable to do school work via their computers because of the lack of internet service.

Donna Daly told selectmen she had to find an office in Rockland because she was unable to work from her home because of the lack of service.

Kendra Jo Grindle, who leads the broadband initiative for the Island Institute, said the problem faced by Owls Head is being felt by many coastal and island communities.

"This is common for communities on a peninsula or in a rural area," Grindle said.

The issue generally is that an incumbent internet carrier bases its decision to extend service on the few numbers of households per mile. The cost to residents to have service extended can be hefty, she said.

Louis Carrier said he called Spectrum in November and was told the company could bring internet to his home but it would cost $19,000 and Spectrum would only kick in $3,000 of that amount. His home is located 1,600 feet from the last home on the line.

Grindle said that solutions for communities are as unique as the community. They often involve a public or private partnership, she said. She said such a process occurred when rural areas were connected to the electrical grid.

Carrier said if the town hired a contractor to lay lines it would be less expensive.

In 2015, a report was commissioned by Owls Head along with Rockland and Rockport about the feasibility of the communities constructing a high-speed broadband network to reach everyone in their communities.

The report -- released in August 2015 by Tilson Technolgy Management of Portland -- concluded that the cost would be $18.6 million for the combined communities but that the long-term economic development would far exceed those expenses.

The cost for Rockland would have been $7.6 million. The cost for Rockport would be $7.9. The cost for Owls Head would be $3.1 million.

Rockland’s Economic Development Advisory Committee recommended at that time that the city should thoroughly explore the financial implications of a model where the city would provide every location in Rockland with access to fiber broadband.

In November 2016, Rockland residents voted 1,886 to 1,471 to approve borrowing up to $400,000 to expand fiber optic cable for broadband internet in Rockland. That project has not moved ahead. City Manager Tom Luttrell said Jan. 6 that he was still reviewing the request for proposals to be sent out to solicit bids.

Rockport's Select Board in 2015 made extending high-speed broadband service to every home and every business a priority.

In August 2014, broadband was built for Rockport Village through a joint project between the town and GWI.

“Broadband investment can have a dramatic effect on economic development,” Tilson stated in its report. “Among other effects, broadband enhances efficiency and productivity of firms, facilitates commerce, attracts jobs, increases consumer options and saves residents money.”

The Tilson report found a high level of support in Rockland to explore a municipal solution to getting high-speed broadband. One important finding was that the only financing structure that would keep prices low and the network solvent is if there were subsidies from the municipalities.

The company said it estimates that the increases in economic activity in the three communities could increase $170 million over 10 years. This includes added jobs and higher wages for jobs.

The projected cost per user for Internet at that time was $20 per month.

Construction would take about 18 months, according to the report.

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