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The Area
Originally published in Castine Patriot, January 13, 2022 and Island Ad-Vantages, January 13, 2022
Four-town broadband committee releases report, recommendation
Consolidated chosen as provider

by Jeffrey B. Roth

Representatives of Blue Hill, Brooksville, Deer Isle and Penobscot broadband committees working as one joint committee have released a 23-page report outlining recommendations to pursue and secure broadband services for residents of the four towns.

Scott Miller, a Blue Hill select board member who serves on the committee, said during the select board’s January 10 meeting, “In summary, we heard from six firms that gave us proposals for constructing broadband networks,” Miller said. “After due consideration, the broadband committee decided that based on those recommendations that working with Consolidated Communications Inc. is the best alternative for us. That decision was really driven by the cost, which is substantially lower than building a freestanding network because they have some cost benefits…they already have a bunch of infrastructure so they can do it more quickly than somebody starting from scratch. Frankly, we had some concerns about the towns’ ability to manage, in effect, its own utility…even managing a contract over 20 years requires some degree of expertise that we weren’t really confident that we have.”

Report findings

The report states that in July 2021, the four towns provided requests for proposals to nine firms with experience in providing broadband solutions to towns and rural communities similar to this area. In September 2021, six firms had replied to the request—each response provided different options, ranging from municipal network control and ownership to complete internet service provider ownership.

“In addition to our efforts, there is concurrent work being done at the state and federal levels to support Broadband expansion to rural areas and we are doing everything we can to ensure our towns are eligible for any of those solutions,” the report states. “The State of Maine’s ConnectMaine Authority teamed with CCI to apply for a competitive grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Agency. If awarded, and when combined with funding already committed by CCI [Consolidated] and work awarded to them through the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, CCI would build a network meeting our Broadband Baseline throughout the Blue Hill Peninsula, including Deer Isle and Stonington. If the grant request is approved, there would be no further action required on the Towns’ part—the network would be constructed over the 12-24 months following approval at no cost to the covered towns. The current expectation (January 2022) is that grant awards will be announced this month, but the decision has already been delayed at least once, so the actual date is uncertain.”

Miller said the report includes two near-term goals: have each town agree to set aside $10,000 in this year’s budget; and formalize the relationship of the towns via an interlocal agreement, similar to the one adopted by Sedgwick and Brooklin that established their two-town broadband entity.

“We don’t think we’re going to use that much money, but we’d rather have more than less,” Miller said. “In terms of who’s going to pay for what; how are we going to split it up…I think it would be beneficial to try to hammer that out.”

The full report is available on the Blue Hill website, townofbluehillmaine.org.

This article was updated from its original version to clarify that the broadband committee is a four-town joint effort.