CRANBERRY ISLES — Any day now, an access road will be cleared to the site on Islesford where a 100-foot tower will help bring high-speed internet to this offshore island community.
Mark Ouelette, president of Axiom Technologies, said the tower has been ordered. It will arrive by barge in 20-foot sections and then be assembled on site, probably around the middle of September.
Islesford residents and businesses currently have internet access through Redzone Wireless. But that service is set to end in October.
“Our objective is, at minimum, to build [fiber] to every year-round home on Islesford before that [Redzone] service stops,” Ouelette said.
The town is partnering with Axiom to provide broadband service for Great Cranberry and Sutton islands, as well as Islesford. A 30-foot tower will be attached to a building at the Cranberry Island Boatyard on Great Cranberry. Axiom’s service to that island and Sutton Island is slated to start next spring.
Axiom said in a recent mailing to Cranberry Isles residents that the new broadband service will be “blazingly fast, highly reliable and … will easily scale up as the needs of the community change.”
“We’ve had great response,” Ouelette said. “There’s a lot of excitement and pent-up interest.”
Sutton Island, which has 22 summer homes but no year-round residents, will be served by the tower on Islesford. Last Thursday, members of the Sutton Island homeowners association voted to have the association pay the $99 installation deposit for everyone who wants to sign up for the service.
The total cost of building a fiber network connection to every home and business in the three island communities, including infrastructure, is estimated at $1.55 million
At town meeting in March, residents authorized the town to spend up to $1.2 million on the project. Axiom has pledged to contribute up to $195,000 in cash and labor.
In May, the town was awarded $66,066 by ConnectME, the state agency that supports the expansion of broadband access, to help pay for the tower on Islesford.
The town also has applied for a $1.31 million grant from the Rural Development Facilities Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“We’re still awaiting word on that,” said Jim Fortune, administrative assistant to the Board of Selectmen. “They’ve called and asked for additional information, and we’ve sent that.”
In June, the town applied for a $500,000 infrastructure grant from the Northern Border Regional Commission, a federal-state partnership that provides federal funds for economic and community development projects in northern Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York.
Town officials wrote in the grant application that the broadband project will “help retain year-round residents and local island business enterprises and, potentially, create new business opportunities, particularly through telecommuting and home businesses.”
Along with the towers on Islesford and Great Cranberry, Axiom will install fiber trunk lines on each island and “drop lines” from the trunk lines to individual homes and businesses.
Customers can elect to pay the cost of burying the fiber cable in conduits underground. If a customer owns all of the utility poles on their property, the fiber can be strung from the poles.