Grant is sought to extend broadband

MOUNT DESERT — The town has applied for a $229,640 grant from ConnectME to extend broadband internet access to 108 homes in the Pretty Marsh area.

Time Warner Cable has agreed to pick up the remaining $54,000 cost of the 10.1-mile extension.

ConnectME is a state agency whose mission is to expand broadband availability. Its grants are funded by a .25 percent surcharge on telephone and cable bills.

The Board of Selectmen voted to apply for the grant for Pretty Marsh at a special meeting April 14. April 15 was the application deadline for this round of grants.

“The largest area of the town of Mount Desert where there is no land-based broadband service at all is Pretty Marsh,” Jeff Burnham, a member of the town’s Broadband Committee, told the selectmen.

“If we get the grant and Time Warner comes through with their commitment, then we would have fiber running close to virtually all the unserved premises in the greater Pretty Marsh area, and it wouldn’t require anything from the town.”

But Burnham indicated he wasn’t optimistic about the town getting the ConnectMe grant.

“This application doesn’t come very close to what ConnectME would like,” he said. “They would prefer to make a grant of $100,000 or less, and they would like to see a 50 percent match.”

Time Warner’s commitment is for a 19 percent match.

“I’m pleased that they came through at all, but I’m very disappointed in what they have offered to put up,” Burnham said. He added that Time Warner officials have told him they could not commit to a larger share at this time.

Two years ago, Time Warner put up 55 percent of a $226,000 project in Blue Hill that extended broadband service to 101 homes.

Burnham noted that the company is required to extend broadband access to areas with at least 20 households per mile. Noting that the Pretty Marsh project would serve an average of just over 10 households per mile, he said, “It seems reasonable for Time Warner to be willing to go halvsies.”

If the town doesn’t get the ConnectME grant, it can reapply for the next round of funding, which likely will be within a year. Burnham said that, at that time, the town should urge Time Warner to contribute a larger share of the cost so that the grant request could be smaller.

Selectman Tom Richardson said that if ConnectME funding doesn’t come through, the town should be prepared to pay whatever it takes to make sure the Pretty Marsh extension happens.

“Getting that area built out has always been priority one because they have nothing,” he said. “I would hope the town in its wisdom would come up with monies to cover what doesn’t get covered by grants. The town needs to be willing to cough it up, I think.”

Since ConnectMe was established 10 years ago, it has awarded 112 grants totaling nearly $9.8 million to Maine towns or groups of towns. Only eight of those grants have been as large as the amount Mount Desert is requesting, and only four of those grants have gone to individual towns.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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