BAR HARBOR — When property owners opened their tax bills last month, they found an announcement of a survey concerning access to high speed internet services from the town’s Communication and Technology Task Force (CTTF). The survey is available on the town’s website through the end of this month.
Originally, the task force hoped to gather detailed data from the survey. But with a tight timeline to include it in the tax bill mailing, they decided to use it more to get people thinking and talking about the issue, town Technical Systems Administrator Steve Cornell said.
One of the Town Council’s current five-year goals is to “determine the cost of improving broadband service within downtown and providing it to areas of the town not currently served.”
The network currently used for phone and internet services by the town’s buildings is owned by Time Warner, Cornell said, and may be in jeopardy in the next few years. “The cable was laid as part of the franchise agreement when cable TV first came in 1998,” he said. The agreement under which the town was allowed to use fiber from Time Warner expired last year. Other towns pay $50,000 per year or more for those services.
Because of this uncertainty and in hopes of boosting economic development, the CTFF has been exploring whether the town should own its own fiber network, Cornell said. “We’re at the mercy of Time Warner,” he said. “This is arguably as important as rural electrification was 100 years ago.”
In March of this year, the Town Council approved $38,000 for a study outlining the options for expanding fiber-optic and broadband internet access. The study is being conducted by Tilson, a Portland-based information technology and consulting firm.
The results of the study are on their way to the CTFF, who will review them before they are sent to the council, Cornell said. “We want a plan of action or some way to implement it. We really want to make sure that it’s a viable proposal, and we have answers to all questions.”
Members of the CTFF include Cornell, town Finance Director Stan Harmon, Councilor Clark Stivers, Brian Booher, Matt Hochman, George Grohs and Josh Young. Ruth Eveland of the Jesup Memorial Library also has been involved, representing the HUB of Bar Harbor.
The CTFF plans several workshops in addition to their regular monthly meetings through the fall. The next one is planned for Sept. 14 at 4:30 p.m. in the council chambers. A full schedule was posted this week on the news section of the town website. News and information is also posted to a “Town of Bar Harbor Fiber/Broadband Study” Facebook group.