CRANBERRY ISLES — The threatened Monday shutdown of internet service to all Redzone Wireless customers on Islesford (Little Cranberry Island) was averted when some of those customers and Redzone agreed to pay an Islesford resident not to pull the plug.
Nine years ago, Jim Parrish agreed to have Redzone equipment installed in the top room of the six-story tower on the northwest corner of his house so that he and others on the island could have internet service.
Now that he has switched to Exede, a satellite-based internet provider, he wants to be paid $300 a month, retroactive to Aug. 1, to allow the Redzone equipment to remain where it is.
Last month, Redzone President Jim McKenna denied Parrish’s request for compensation, saying the company could not afford to do so “given the limited revenue opportunity and high operating expense associated with servicing the island.”
Parrish said McKenna suggested he ask the town for compensation. Last Tuesday, the Board of Selectmen voted not to pay.
“We were all in agreement that this is something he needs to work out with Redzone,” board Chairman Richard Beal said after the meeting.
“If he can’t do that, and he wishes to just pull the plug, he’d better think about all of his neighbors. But the board was unanimous that they were not going to react with a gun to their head, so to speak.”
In 2007, the town paid Redzone $12,000 to help establish internet service on Islesford. McKenna has said that amount covered about 20 percent of the company’s initial capital cost.
Beal said the town is not and never has been responsible for maintaining internet service for Islesford.
Parrish told the selectmen in a July 18 letter that he wanted the town to pay him $1,000 up front and then to ask voters at town meeting next March to approve another lump-sum payment of $2,600 – for compensation retroactive to Aug. 1 of this year – plus $300 a month going forward.
Parrish said Jim Fortune, the selectmen’s administrative assistant, called him last Thursday to inform him of the board’s rejection of his request.
“I said, I hate to be a bully, but if you don’t compensate me, then Monday I’m going to turn it off because it’s been nine years and no one has ever said ‘thank you;’ no one has ever appreciated anything I’ve done for this island,” Parrish told the Islander.
He said that when Selectman Malcolm Fernald visited him later on Thursday, he repeated his intention to shut off the Redzone equipment unless he received an initial payment of $1,000 by Monday of this week. He said he didn’t care who paid it.
Fernald then called McKenna, the Redzone president, who agreed that the company would contribute $500. The other $500 was collected from island residents by the Monday deadline.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Islesford had 94 year-round residents. The estimated population in the summer is about 600. Asked how many subscribers Redzone has on Islesford, McKenna said, “I can’t share that information.”
The Cranberry Isles Broadband Working Group, which is looking for a long-term solution to the entire town’s connectivity needs, held an emergency meeting July 28 to discuss what Chairman Tom Powell called Parrish’s “ultimatum.”
The broadband group recommended that the selectmen agree to pay Parrish something now and try to negotiate with him to continue housing the Redzone equipment until another solution can be put in place
The selectmen’s subsequent refusal to pay Parrish and his threat to turn off the Redzone equipment on Monday was discussed at the broadband group’s regular meeting last Friday.
Selectman Fernald told them he thought that having the town pay Parrish to maintain Redzone service would have been “a bad precedent to set” and that asking island residents to chip in to pay Parrish was “not ideal.”
“But at the same time, I don’t want to be without internet next week and for the foreseeable future.”
Islesford resident Skip Stevens said at the broadband group meeting that he agrees with the selectmen’s decision.
“But I question whether we want to ask the Redzone users to contribute even more money for a service that I consider inadequate,” Stevens said. “I’m already spending $42 a month for a service that I can barely use, so I have reservations about contributing any more. It just perpetuates an unacceptable status quo.”
Katelyn Damon agreed that the Redzone service is inadequate, “but it’s a lot better than no internet at all.”
“I will pay the extra bit of money right now so that I can continue to work. Otherwise, I am not going to be able to live here.”
Damon works 30 hours a week, mostly from home, as the town’s public safety coordinator.
Parrish suggested Tuesday that Redzone should cover the cost of having its equipment in his house by increasing the monthly fee.
“If people on the island wouldn’t want to pay another $3 per month, then they either don’t care about the internet or don’t deserve it,” Parrish said.
Islesford residents have asked if there are other places on the island where the Redzone equipment could be housed.
McKenna, the Redzone president, said in a July 26 email to town officials, “To my knowledge, Jim Parrish’s home is the only structure on Islesford that can reliably reach the mainland. That’s why I’ve advised the town to put up a tower for the last seven years.”
Redzone’s wireless link to Southwest Harbor is over 4.5 miles of ocean. McKenna said that at that distance, the “tidal Fresnel” effect, which interferes with wireless signals, is a significant problem.
“Broadband wireless equipment requires sufficient height above ground level and setback from the waterfront in order to overcome the Fresnel,” he said. “If the height is reduced or the equipment is moved closer to the water, then the link will degrade or drop entirely as the tide rises and falls.”
Members of the Broadband Working Group asked at their meeting last Friday if Exede, the satellite-based service that Parrish now uses, could be an option for others.
“It meets the needs of some users who need some internet access, but it doesn’t meet the needs of broadband; it doesn’t experience the web in a modern way,” Powell said. “It’s good enough for someone who wants to check their email, but working from home is just not an option with Exede.”
The Cranberry Isles selectmen have asked the broadband group to develop a request for proposals (RFP) from internet service companies to provide broadband service to three of the town’s five islands: Great Cranberry, Islesford and Sutton. Powell said Friday that he has asked the selectmen for approval to hire Tilson Technology of Portland to help generate the RFP.
Over the past year, Tilson has conducted studies and developed broadband plans for Bar Harbor and Mount Desert. Tilson also conducted a study of the broadband needs of Maine’s outer islands, including the Cranberry Isles. That study was commissioned by the Island Institute.