MDI-wide broadband eyed

MOUNT DESERT — Mount Desert Island might be out of the way, but that doesn’t mean it has to be out of touch, said municipal officials in the four MDI towns.

That is why they have identified island-wide broadband – or high-speed, high-capacity – Internet access as one of their top priorities. And they are now considering a proposal from Tilson, a Portland-based information technology consulting firm, to develop a plan for identifying areas that currently do not have broadband access and designing “a network solution that closes the gap.”

Earlier this fall, at the request of the Mount Desert selectmen, Tilson submitted a proposal for addressing that town’s broadband access deficiencies.

Members of the town’s economic development committee and other year-round and summer residents have said universal broadband access is essential to the town’s long-term vitality and economic growth.

Jackie Hewitt, Mount Desert’s economic development consultant, Monday night asked the board of selectmen to think about all of the houses in town that are empty for much of the year.

“With broadband, a lot of people who are here only one or two months of the year may stay longer because they can actually work here,” she said. “They may even be able to move their business here.”

Tilson quoted a price of $22,000 for evaluating Mount Desert’s needs and designing a solution.

Since then, elected officials in the four MDI towns have agreed to explore the idea of jointly commissioning a broadband plan for the entire island.

In Tilson’s proposal for providing that service, the firm quoted “a firm fixed price of $50,000.” However, Aaron Paul, director of energy and broadband consulting for Tilson, said in an accompanying letter that the cost would be $52,000.

Tilson’s proposal includes conducting “a telecom asset inventory to understand the current state of broadband access and underlying infrastructure” and talking with the chambers of commerce, business owners, nonprofit organizations and others “to understand their current satisfaction with broadband access and future goals.”

Tilson said it would “define a new community standard for wireline and wireless broadband availability … based on what stakeholders need and want.”

The firm said it would then design a network to meet that community standard.

“This may include cell towers, small cells, fiber-to-curb designs or fiber-to-the-home designs,” Tilson’s proposal said.

It is now up to the elected officials of the four MDI towns to decide whether they want to hire Tilson for the broadband study and system design, and if so, how much of the cost each town would pay.

The Tremont selectmen Monday night said they were interested in the broadband initiative and would decide whether to participate after a mutually acceptable funding arrangement among the participating towns has been finalized.

Mount Desert Selectman Tom Richardson said Monday night that Mount Desert should be prepared to go it alone.

“I think we need to plan on doing the study, and if somebody else decides to come in, so be it,” he said. “But let’s not put off getting this town done.”

Noting that some parts of Mount Desert don’t have Internet access, much less broadband, Richardson said, “We need to get our town taken care of.”

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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