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Rockland renews interest in regional broadband utility

By Stephen Betts | Feb 15, 2021
The Midcoast Broadband Coalition met Feb. 10.

Rockland has renewed interest in the feasibility of being part of a regional broadband utility to be owned by local municipalities.

The Midcoast Broadband Coalition held its most recent meeting Feb. 10 via the online Zoom platform.

The coalition currently includes members from Camden, Rockport, Hope, Lincolnville and Northport but the group hopes to have communities from South Thomaston to Northport join in the effort. Debra Hall of Rockport chairs the coalition.

The Rockland City Council agreed Feb. 8 to have Councilor Ben Dorr attend a meeting of the coalition.

City Manager Tom Luttrell said if the city joins the coalition, its share of the feasibility study would be $20,000 to $30,000, depending on how many municipalities join.

Dorr said, after the meeting, that he attended to get a sense of what that group of people are working on. Dorr said he was not speaking for the city as a whole or for the council but offered his personal thoughts.

"Any conversation about creating municipally controlled bodies is worth having since it can remove some of the need to make profits. The private sector is pretty self serving so if we can create something that is designed to serve the community as a whole I’m all for it," Dorr said.

He said industry has failed a lot of people and this "may just be one small way we can start to unwind some of that failure."

"So many people who are trying to make a living rely on good internet service to make that happen so trying to find a way to create a good publicly funded option feels like a good move," he said.

The Feb. 10 meeting was attended by two consultants who have advised regional municipal groups across the country.

The feasibility study, which has not yet been commissioned, would look at how many municipalities are interested, and how many potential customers.

Rockland was one of several communities that commissioned a broadband study in 2015. The report, issued in August 2015, concluded it would cost Rockland, Rockport and Owls Head a combined $18.6 million to construct a high-speed broadband network to reach everybody in their communities, but the long-term economic development generated would far exceed those expenses.

The report by Tilson Technology Management stated the cost for Rockland would be $7.6 million. The cost for Rockport would be $7.9 million. The cost for Owls Head would be $3.1 million.

“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 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.

In November 2016, Rockland residents voted 1,886 to 1,471 to approve borrowing up to $400,000 for the broadband expansion.

At the time, then acting City Manager Audra Caler Bell said the money would be used to construct a high-speed fiber broadband network that would be the backbone from which service could eventually be extended all over the city. The $400,000 would create a system to link municipal and school buildings and key downtown locations.

The city never moved ahead with that project, focusing first on issuing bonds for road paving and work on the library.

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Comments (4)
Posted by: George Terrien | Feb 17, 2021 08:03

By ALL means, Rockland must participate in--and make--this initiative happen, for everyone.

Posted by: THOMAS MARSHALL, JR | Feb 16, 2021 17:43

Wouldn’t G5 wireless technology reach everybody without the need for fiber or cable to the household?  We all have cell phones now.  I don’t even have a landline anymore.  If G5 can deliver 20 Gigabits-per-seconds peak and support the Internet Of Things, why are we wasting $millions on old technology? Shouldn’t we be considering a grid of local low-power 5G antenna with either fiber backbone or wireless high-bandwidth channels?  We’ll certainly need land use ordinance changes because 5G doesn’t use 100’ cell towers but much smaller rooftop base stations.. just many more of them spread across Rockland.  We have the concentration of users for it to make sense for Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile to make the investment in plant. What we don’t have is a regulatory blueprint at a local level to give everyone a level playing field.

Posted by: Jack S Copp | Feb 16, 2021 09:17

My understanding of fiber optic broadband systems is that they are a good fit for the Mid Coast. Fastest speeds, (50 Mbps to 100 Gpbs) without signal degradation over long distances. Better security (A must these days). Can be scaled up pretty easily and although the initial cost is higher, it is more cost effective to run over time because of lower maintenance costs and that is crucial here on the coast. Add to that, because the signals are run through cables ( like you current cable tv etc.) and then distributed in neighborhoods via ground cabinets to our homes, there wont be a forest of transmitter towers everywhere spoiling our coastal views or making us sick with high R/F radiation. As more and more smart communities choose fiber optic cable instead of wireless, even the initial costs are coming down. As I said, this is my understanding of how this system works and it seems like a fine choice to bring the Mid Coast and beyond quality high speed broadband for our current and future needs

Posted by: Valerie Wass | Feb 15, 2021 14:09

Great for all communities!  Keep us in the loop please.


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