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Islesboro and Rockport: So Near and Yet So Far (On FTTH Vote)

Islesboro and Rockport: So Near and Yet So Far (On FTTH Vote)

Wed, June 22, 2016

Rockport was the first community in Maine to build a fiber-optic network to serve businesses, but their pioneering initiative will not extend to Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH). At their annual town meeting on June 15th, the local Opera House was packed as citizens showed up to speak on funding an FTTH engineering and network design study. After an extended debate, attendees voted on the measure and defeated the town warrant to spend $300,000 on the project.

According to the Penobscot Bay Pilot, passions flared as a number of people stood up to explain their vote. Several people in support of the project had previous experience with life after fiber:

Deborah Hall, on the other hand, said she led an effort in another state to take fiber optics to 500 homes. That effort resulted in the fact that the “average resident is now saving 100 dollars every month in getting rid of Comcast.”
She recounted how the fiber optic system already in place in Rockport was a draw for her family to return to live in the town. They improved their Internet on Russell Avenue by personally spending the money to extend the fiber to their home, and consequently “reduced our collective Internet and television bills by $155 a month. That’s over 50 percent.”

Rockport’s youth described their dilemma, living in a place where connectivity was less than adequate:

Thomas R. Murphy said he also grew up in town but said: “I am leaving this town to seek a technology career, and am moving to Austin. I have to do this because we do not have technology in this town.”  He warned that sticking with the status quo, residents were paying a company “to make profits and take profits to shareholders in other places.”
“We can keep our resources here and improve lives of everyone. This is an investment we need to make for our future. Costs can be spread thoughtfully by the town, and we can pay forward to the future of the town.”

People at the meeting who did not support the project did not like the idea of paying an estimated $150 more per year in property taxes, even though it would significantly lower monthly Internet access rates while offering better service. The measure failed 59 - 92.

Meanwhile in Islesboro…Islanders Sing A Different Song

Across the water of the West Penobscot Bay is an island community of fewer than 600 people. Once Islesboro began taking steps to improve connectivity with publicly owned Internet infrastructure in March 2015, they did not look back.

On June 18th, voters at the annual town meeting authorized $3.8 million in borrowing with a final vote of 143 - 23. The community will issue a municipal bond paid for with a slight increase in property taxes.

The GWI Blog reports that Islesboro’s plan will provide Gigabit per second (Gbps) Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) access to each business and residence on the island. The network should be completed by spring 2017 and all customers should be connected by the end of the summer. Gigabit connectivity will cost approximately $360 per year. GWI will provide Internet access via the city-owned fiber.

According to Town Manager Janet Anderson, the outcome of the vote relied on educating residents: “It came down to showing the voters how a municipally owned Internet system could be a benefit as well as a simple, good deal for them,” she said.

When folks in Leverett, Massachusetts, considered the financial implications of a fast, affordable, reliable municipal network, they also realized that owning their own infrastructure would give them the best deal. In addition to paying less overall, customers of LeverettNet are getting better Internet access than they can obtain from the incumbents. They keep dollars in the community and they make decisions about the services they will receive.

Page Clason, a member of Islesboro’s Broadband Committee who was instrumental in bringing the initiative this far said:

“We are building a digital bridge to the mainland. By making gigabit Internet available to everyone at an affordable price, we will step to the right side of the digital divide. By building and owning our own network, we control our own destiny. Self-reliance has always been a strong island value.”